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Let's Meet the Theatre 

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Dorothy and Joseph 

With an Introduction 
by John Gassner 


Copyright, 1954 

by Dorothy and Joseph Samachson 

Libfaiy of Congress 

Catalog Card Number 53-10843 

Printed and bound in the 
United States of America 








Arthur Miller: Why Write a Play? 15 

John Van Draten: How to Select a Subject 21 

Howard Lindsay and Russel Grouse: How Playwrights Col- 
laborate 26 

Brooks Atkinson: Does the Critic Make or Break a Play? 31 


John Golden: How Our Theatre Has Changed 42 

Theresa Helburn: How a Producing Group Is Formed 48 

Oliver Smith: The Producer in the Noncommercial Theatre 53 


George Abbott: How to Direct Comedy and Melodrama 69 

Harold Clurman: The Kind of Theatre We Have 73 

Margaret Webster: How to Cast a Play 80 


Howard Bay: What Every Young Designer Should Know 97 

Mordecai Gorehk: The Designer As Creative Artist 101 

* / A S\ \ "" . , 


Edith Atwater: Problems the Actor Faces 123 

Katharine Cornell: What a Star Looks for in a Play 128 

Clarence Derwent: What Makes a Character Actor 132 

Uta Hagen: How an Actress Prepares for Her Part 137 

Alfred Harding: What an Actor Uses for Money 142 

Rex Harrison: From London to Broadway 147 

Helm Hayes: Extending the Actress* Range 152 

Bert Lahr: How to Make People Laugh 158 

Frederick O'Neal: The Negro Actor and His Roles 163 


Ruth Mitchell: What a Stage Manager Does 168 


Leonard Bernstein: The Composer in the Theatre 178 

Agnes de Mille: Staging Dances in the Theatre 183 


The High-School Theatre 188 

The University Theatre 195 

The Summer Theatre 206 

Theatres Throughout the Country 218 


Glossary 243 

Bibliography 247 

Index 251 

List of Illustraticns 

1. Scene from Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller 19 

2. Scene from I Am a Camera by John Van Draten 22 
8. Scene from Life with Father by Howard Lindsay and Russel Grouse 28 

4. Scene from The Male Animal by James Thurber and Elliott Nugent 45 

5. Scene from Picnic by William Inge 49 

6. Scene from On the Town by Adolph Green and Betty Comden, produced 

by Paul Feigay and Oliver Smith, and designed by Mr. Smith 54 

7. Helen Hayes and the cast reading Mrs. McThing by Mary Chase 60 

8. Newell Tarrant, the director of the Erie Playhouse, explains a piece of 

business to a cast in rehearsal 62 

9. A tense moment from the Theatre Guild production of Shakespeare's 

Othello 64 

10. Scene from Three Men on a Horse by Cecil Holm and George Abbott, 

directed by Mr. Abbott 70 

11. Scene from The Time of the Cuckoo by Arthur Laurents, directed by 

Harold Clurman 74 

12. Scene from A Member of the Wedding by Carson McCullers, directed by 

Harold Clurman 78 

13. Scene from George Bernard Shaw's The Devils Disciple in production 

directed by Margaret Webster 81 

14. Stage designer Jo Mielziner, director Alan Schneider, members of the 

faculty, and students discuss set for a new pky at Catholic University 87 

15. Stage set designed by Jo Mielziner for Arthur Miller's Death of a 

Salesman 90 

16. A lighting board of the type used in some high schools 92 

17. Various types of stage lights that can be used in school productions 92 and 93 

18. Lighting a stage set 94 

19. Walter Hampden in costume for The Crucible 96 

20. Stage design by Howard Bay for a scene in the 1946 revival of Show 

Boat by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II t 99 

21. Stage set by Howard Bay for Come Back, Little Sheba by William Inge 99 

22. Stage design by Mordecai Gorelik for Desire Under the Elms by Eugene 

O'Neill 102 

23. Setting up the scenery for the American production of L'Ecole des 

Femmes by Moliere, which was performed by a French company 104 

24. Sarah Bemhardt as the Queen in Ruy Bias by Victor Hugo 113 

25. Making up for the part of John Brown in The Moon Besieged by Seyril 

Schocken, produced at the Goodman Memorial Theatre, Chicago 115 

26. A speech class at Catholic University concentrating on oral interpre- 

tation 117 

27. Scene from State of the Union by Howard Lindsay and Russel Grouse 124 

28. Katharine Cornell and Lenore Ulric in a scene from Shakespeare's Antony 

and Cleopatra 130 

29. Scene from the Stanford University production of Sheridan's The Rivals. 

Clarence Derwent and Aline MacMahon, Artists in Residence, per- 
forming with students 135 

30. Uta Hagen as Joan of Arc facing her inquisitors in a scene from Shaw's 

Saint Joan, directed by Margaret Webster 138 

31. Rex Harrison as Henry VIII and Joyce Redman as Anne Boleyn in a scene 

from Anne of the Thousand "Days by Maxwell Anderson 148 

32. Helen Hayes as the aged Queen Victoria in a scene from Victoria Regina 

by Laurence Housman 156 

33. Bert Lahr in two scenes from Two on the Aisle 159 

34. Frederick O'Neal as the Judge in a scene from The Winner by Elmer 

Rice 164 

35. Ruth Mitchell, stage manager of The King and I, during a rehearsal 169 

36. Scene from Wonderful Town 179 

37. Scene from the ballet in Oklahoma! by Richard Rodgers and Oscar 

Hammerstein II, choreography by Agnes de Mille 185 

38. Scene from The Winslow Boy by Terence Rattigan, produced by the 

Bosse High School Thespians at Evansville, Indiana 189 

39. A high-school stage crew at Parkersburg, West Virginia, putting up a set 191 

40. A rehearsal scene from Katherine and Petruchio at Central Catholic High 

School, Canton, Ohio 192 

41. Scene from Children of the Ladybug by Robert Thorn, as presented by 

the Yale University Department of Drama 195 

42. A rehearsal of Sing Out> Sweet Land, written and originally directed by 

Walter Kerr for Catholic University 197 

43. Scene from an original play by student playwright Louis Adelman, pre- 

sented by the Drama School of Carnegie Institute of Technology 198 

44. The performance over, student stagehands strike the set and take inventory 199 

45. Scene from Oedipus the King as directed by Alan Schneider for Catholic 

University 200 

46. Student stagehands at Syracuse University 201 

47. A student performance of Richard III designed and directed by Dr. A. 

Nicholas Vardac of Stanford University 203 

48. A Midsummer Night's Dream as staged by the University of Oregon's 

School of Drama 204 

49. Scene from They Knew What They Wanted by Sidney Howard, as per- 

formed at the Seacliff Summer Theatre 211 

50. Scene from The Trojan Women by Euripides, as performed at the Hillbam 

Summer Theatre, San Mateo, California 214 

51. Scene from Street Scene by Elmer Rice, as performed at Le Petit Theatre 

du Vieux Carre in New Orleans 219 

52. A group of well-known professional actors xehearsing Awake and Sing by 

Clifford Odets, at the Actor's Lab Theatre in California 220 

53. A model of the Baylor Theatre, a community theatre in Texas 223 

54. Scene from the Mexican drama Return to Earth by Miguel N. Lira, first 

performed at the Goodman Memorial Theatre, Chicago 225 

55. The interior of The Cleveland Playhouse 228 

56. Theatre in the Round at the Dallas Theatre, Texas. A performance of 

Southern Exposure by Owen Crump, directed by Margo Jones 231 

57. Scene from Stairs to the Roof by Tennessee Williams, as performed at the 

Pasadena Community Playhouse 234 

58. Scene from Sophocles' Electra as presented at the Goodman Memorial 

Theatre in Chicago 236 

59. Scene from Our Town by Thornton Wilder 238 


So MANY BOOKS have already been written about the theatre that 
every new one appears to need, if not an apology, at least a clearly 
stated reason for its existence. This, then, has been our aim: to 
offer a useful and informative introduction to the theatre, an in- 
troduction that will be as well-rounded as possible, without bulg- 
ing too greatly and without falling into the opposite error of be- 
coming too flat and skimpy. 

We have hoped to give the reader an idea of how he or she 
might fit into the theatre, especially the noncommercial theatre. 
In addition, you may find in this book the answers to such ques- 
tions as these: Can you start a worth-while theatre group with 
little or no money? How do you decide what play to do? Isn't 
the scenery expensive and complicated to make? 

We are not writing for people who are already experts on the 
theatre, nor for those who want a textbook on some single phase 
like production or acting. Excellent volumes on these subjects al- 
ready exist, and we refer to some of them in our appendix. More- 
over, although the theatre is full of debatable subjects (such as, 
How closely should an actor identify himself with the character h.e 
is portraying?) we have tried to reduce matters of opinion to a 

We have attempted chiefly to help the beginner find his di- 
rection, to keep him from becoming confused and lost in the maze 
of detail in which the story of the theatre abounds. This guiding 
thought has influenced our choice of material throughout the book. 
It explains, for example, why we have presented so many interviews 
with important personalities. We are dealing here with an art in 
which facts are not always easy to ascertain, and where at almost 
every turn it is impossible to draw a sharp dividing line between 
fact and opinion. It is for this reason that the individuals we have 
questioned have so much of value to contribute to rounding out 
die picture. That they often contradict one another in many de- 
tails is to be expected; from their different points of view they 
succeed in illuminating the various aspects of the American theatre 
today far better than one or two individuals would be likely to do. 

There is one final word to be added. The pages which follow 
contain occasional references to that solemn question: Is the 


theatre dying? In answer, it need be said only that we did not set 
out to write this book as an obituary. But although we do not be- 
lieve that the theatre is dying, we do agree that it is changing. 
The nature of the changes wiU explain some of the emphasis in 
this book. 




MANY BOOKS HAVE BEEN WRITTEN about the stage, and a number 
of these have been intended for the younger generation which is 
expected to provide the theatre's new artists and new audiences. 
But I know of no other book like Let's Meet the Theatre which 
treats the young reader as an adult and that is the first principle 
to be observed, I believe, in writing about the stage. We owe it 
to the young to tell them the truth about the stage. We owe it 
especially about an enterprise which is often financially unreward- 
ing and always difficult, if not indeed heart-breaking. Instead of 
glamorizing a stage career and deluding boys and girls into expect- 
ing easy success and fabulous rewards, the authors have assumed 
the obligation to be realistic. They know that the glamour of an 
art is not the art itself, which must grow out of real conditions and 
must accommodate itself to them. Unlike the merchants of glory 
who publicize film stars and publish fan magazines for movie ad- 
dicts, the authors assume that their readers are already adults in 
the sense that they want to be provided with facts rather than 
fancies. Moreover, those young people who possess any talent 
worth developing are already adults, because in talent distinctions 
of^age rarely matter; one must work hard and responsibly and 
attend to the business on hand with reliable craftsmanship whether 
one is fifteen or fifty-five. 

Because they respect the facts, besides, the authors decided to 
go for their information to those who have actually worked in the 
theatre in one capacity or another professionally and for many 
years. This book is, to my knowledge, the first one to let the young 
reader hear what the experts have to say about their own specialty 
and about the problems of the theatre as a whole. This, too, is the 
grown-up way of approaching a subject. One respects both the 
subject and the reader, regardless of his age, in presenting the 
views of people who tolerate no nonsense about their job, who don't 
talk down to anyone because they are experienced enough to have 
learned humility, and who don't "talk up" their subject either 
because they are not selling anything. That is, they are not recom- 


mending a theatrical career to anyone who is not genuinely im- 
pelled to become a playwright, actor, director, scene designer, or 
producer in spite of all the obstacles that stand in the way of 
success; and they are not advertising their own artistry or business 
because they know that there is only one place in which to sell it 
and that is in the theatre itself through the interest aroused in the 

Because the making of "theatre" is a collaborative undertaking, 
the authors, finally, have given most of their attention to the func- 
tions which must be discharged before a play can come alive on the 
stage. This does not come about by spontaneous combustion, but 
only when everybody from the most inspired playwright down to 
the most down-to-earth stage manager has performed what is ex- 
pected of him with as little friction as is possible in a large group 
of collaborators. Tracing the number of jobs to be done is the most 
practical way to provide insight into the work as a whole. That is 
surely the reason for the method adopted by the authors in inter- 
viewing representatives of the various arts and crafts that make up 
the total experience we call theatre. 

Still, if I endorse the authors* procedure, it is not solely because 
they have been so commendably practical They have been that 
only in order to better serve their ideal of theatre. They would not 
have gone to the trouble of giving us a book so completely free 
from pet theories and self-advertisement if they had lacked a 
proper regard for an art that has been one of the most remarkable 
accomplishments of the human mind and spirit. The theatre, an 
enterprise at least three thousand years old and spread, in one 
form or another, over the entire globe, is the mirror that shows 
men to themselves. By making men share an experience publicly, 
the theatre, moreover, gives them a sense of communion and welds 
them into a community for each performance, in this way making 
society recognize its emotional and intellectual and spiritual unity. 
The artists of the stage, in working together, themselves constitute 
a temporary community, which like the larger community of the 
audience, city, or state, involves mutual understanding and com- 
mon endeavor. And, finally, the theatre is the repository of all the 
other arts developed by civilization. Writers, dancers, singers, mu- 
sicians, painters, costume-designers, architects, and technicians of 
all sortsthey all come together and pool their talents and tech- 
niques to create one total art. We might say, then, that when the 
authors of this book write about the theatre they are, in a profound 

sense, writing about almost everything that distinguishes us from 
the animal kingdom. 

If our authors refrain from waxing lyrical about their subject, 
the reason is that its humanism is intrinsic. All that is required 
is to make its attributes manifest by means of craftsmanship 
and art. Nevertheless, it cannot be stressed too strongly for the 
general public, and particularly for parents and teachers, that the 
theatre is the school of life. It is that for both those who participate 
in putting on a show and for those who witness the performance. 
And when this fact is realized, we come to understand the ultimate 
justification for this book as well as for the theatre. 

Let's Meet the Theatre is not a compendious volume and does 
not tell us all there is to know about the craft of theatre. For a 
more detailed analysis and for more technical information the 
student would have to turn to comprehensive textbooks such as 
Heffner, Selden and Sellman's Modern Theatre Practice, Hewitt, 
Foster and Wolle's Play Production, or my Producing the Play. 
The purpose of the authors of Let 9 s Meet the Theatre is simply 
to sum up the nature of the enterprise, which Granville-Barker 
once called "Everyman's art," so that those who would like to work 
in it will understand what the creation of theatre entails and those 
who will become its audience will be able to follow the effort 
intelligently. But whether the book comes into the hands of the 
potential theatre worker or into those of the potential playgoer, 
it is to be hoped that everybody understands that there is no in- 
tention here to lure anyone into the Broadway marketplace, which 
is also the graveyard of many hopes; and that if any promise is 
held out, it is a promise of enhancement of life by theatrical art 
whether one serves the art or is served by it. (And in stage per- 
formance obviously those who serve and those who are served 
interact. ) Above all, if the young will realize that good, stimulating 
theatre is something they can create in their own town or city, 
they will escape much disappointment and win much gratification. 
They will get more out of their humanness than a workaday exist- 
ence alone can give them. They will lead fuller lives and make life 
richer for others in the place they know as home and wherever 
they can effectuate themselves as complete and rooted individuals, 
for no one completes himself separately. Theatre need not replace 
their other studies, vocations and relationships. It need only sup- 
plement and illuminate these to prove highly valuable. 

It would have been a mistake to write this or any other book 


for the purpose of manufacturing hordes of role-hungry actors and 
actresses for Broadway. But it can only be a service to the Individual 
and the community to introduce the young to an area of human 
activity in which they may develop their senses, their understand- 
ing, and their sense of fellowship. Theatre is an activity in which 
participation is possible even when an exclusive professional com- 
mitment to it is not possible or considered feasible. And it is an 
activity, direct rather than canned, in which contact with the other 
persons who make up a society is a major gratification a gratifica- 
tion especially important in our century which suffers greatly from 
men's lack of relatedness. One thing is certain: We ought to view 
the theatre and a person's activity in it as an expression and ex- 
tension of reality rather than as an irresponsible intrusion. That is 
what must have been in the mind of the Elizabethan playwright 
John Heywood when he drew his analogy: 

The world's a theatre, the earth a stage 
Which God and Nature do with players fill. 

New York, N. Y. 
June 1954. 



WE HAVE BEEN PLEASED, in the preparation of this book, to discover 
that the generosity traditionally associated with the stage is to be 
found not only in the professional theatre, but also among critics 
and press agents, and in community and university theatres as 
well. It is a welcome duty to acknowledge how much help we 
have received. 

First of all, we owe much to the people we have interviewed. 
Many of them were occupied with other work when we saw them, 
or preparing for exhausting performances. We can only thank them 
for their kindness and patience, and for their courtesy in answering 
questions when they had so much else on their minds. 

We owe additional thanks to Brooks Atkinson, who has read 
the section on The Producer, and granted permission to use the 
ideas expressed in a lecture given at Antioch College. We have 
borrowed some of Mr, Atkinson's thinking in our chapter on 
Author and Audience; he is not responsible, of course, for what we 
have done to his ideas. 

Mordecai Gorelik, who has been of great help in writing the 
section on The Designer, has generously permitted us to lift some 
of his thoughts about Shakespeare from an article, "This Side Idol- 
atry," which appeared in the October, 1951 issue of The Educa- 
tional Theatre Journal, and to use them in the Author and Au- 

Arthur Miller has read the whole Author and Audience chap- 
ter and Harold Clurman has read the chapter on The Director. 
Edith Atwater has gone over the chapter on The Actor. George 
Freedley has helped with the part on Theatres Throughout the 
Country, and supplied information we had not obtained elsewhere. 

Thomas G. Ratcliffe, Jr., has gone to considerable trouble to 
help inform us about The Summer Theatre. And during a record- 
breaking July heat wave, Professor Milton Smith, of Columbia Uni- 
versity, maintained his composure and his temperature in answer- 
ing our questions about The University Theatre. 

We owe thanks to Leon C. Miller, Executive Secretary-Treas- 
urer of the Thespian Society, and to Christine Edwards, for their 
information about The High-School Theatre. We are also grateful 

to Miss Edwards for reading the section on voice and body in the 
chapter entitled The Actor. 

We are indebted to Jose Ferrer for answering our questions on 
how to combine apparently conflicting roles in the theatre, to 
James D. Proctor for his information on how to be a press repre- 
sentative, and to Zachary Solov for his advice on the staging of 
dances in the round. To Mrs. John Burdick, of ANTA, we owe 
thanks for information about that organization. 

To Professor Sawyer Falk, of Syracuse University, we owe a 
great debt for the kindness with which he helped us learn about 
Community and University Theatres and enabled us to secure many 
of the photographs needed. To Gertrude Macy we are grateful for 
being helpful in various ways. 

To Alfred Harding, editor of Equity Magazine, our thanks for 
many acts of kindness. He has read most of the manuscript, and 
has combined a scrupulous insistence on matters of fact with 
considerable tolerance in matters of opinion. 

To Isadora Bennett we owe thanks for help and encouragement 
in the early stages of this book. To Betty Lee Hunt, we are in- 
debted for helping us obtain many of the interviews, and for other 
kindnesses as well, going far beyond the call of a press agent's duty. 

While occupied with the preparation of her own book, Dr. 
Alice Venezky Griffin has been of aid in many ways. We are grate- 
ful for the time and trouble she has taken. 

Thanks are due also to Dr. Kurt Pinthus, who has been kind 
enough to go over the manuscript in detail with a keen eye for 
mistakes. He has made many suggestions that we feel have in- 
creased the value of the book. 

For the kindness and generosity expressed by community and 
university theatres, we wish to thank Bettie Wysor, of the Barter 
Theatre; Paul Baker, of the Baylor Theatre; Alan Schneider, of 
Catholic University; Ramon J. Elias, of the Cleveland Play House; 
Margo Jones, of the Dallas Theatre; Newell Tarrant and Kenneth 
K. Goldstein, of the Erie Playhouse; Louise Dale Spoor, of the 
Goodman Memorial Theatre; Jasper Deeter, of the Hedgerow 
Theatre; Fred Koch, Jr., of the University of Miami; Horace W. 
Robinson, of the University of Oregon; Gilmor Brown and Oliver 
B. Prickett, of the Pasadena Playhouse; Monroe Lippman, of Le 
Petit Theatre du Vieux Carr6, New Orleans; John Wray Young, of 
the Shreveport Little Theatre; Hallie Flanagan Davis, of Smith 
College; Norman Philbrick and A. Nicholas Vardac, of Stanford 
University; Glenn Hughes, of the University of Washington; and 
Boyd Smith and Frank Bevan, of Yale University. 

Finally, our special thanks of John Gassner. With his vast 


knowledge of theatrical literature and of the theatre itself, as well 
as of the writing of books, he has helped us in many ways both to 
secure information and to arrange it to advantage. 

If, despite the sharp eyes of our numerous kind critics, errors 
are still to be found, they must be attributed to us alone. In the 
process of revision and re-revision we have made many changes; 
for any inaccuracies thus introduced, only we ourselves can be 
held responsible. 


"ALL THE WORLD'S a stage," said Shakespeare in one of his most 
famous passages, and we may add that it is the most interesting of 
all stages. But it is also a stage on which too many different episodes 
are being acted at the same time. Real-life drama is too complicated 
for us to follow clearly. And because we ourselves take part in it, 
we often miss the tragedy and the humor that a bystander might 

The stage we find in the theatre is smaller and simpler. What 
takes place upon it is more easily followed and understood. Most 
important, on this stage it is not we ourselves but the imaginary 
people created by the playwright who laugh and enjoy themselves, 
or weep and suffer. They may be realistic that is, like real people 
but they are not real. 

Both actors and audience know this. As an actor, you may 
make a convincing Macbeth, but you never convince yourself that 
you have actually killed Duncan! You may thrill the audience, but 
it doesn't forget that it is attending a play, not a murder. As you 
create a character, you observe it from within, while the audience 
observes it from without but you both realize that (except on 
rare occasions) you are merely spectators. You watch other people 
do the living and suffering, and you share the acted joys and sor- 
rows at second hand. 

This sort of sharing is one of the theatre's greatest gifts. For 
centuries, audiences have watched entranced as the actors created 
their own world within our greater world. In ancient Greece the 
people used to rise while it was still dark, and, in the chill before 
dawn, assemble in a theatre at the foot of a hill. And as soon as 
the sun was high enough to let the actors be seen, the first play 
would begin. Drama would follow drama throughout the morning 
and, after a short intermission, into the afternoon. The next day a 
new set of plays would begin, and the day after still another. The 
Greeks took the theatre very seriously indeed. 

Through the Middle Ages also, the theatre was a means for en- 
riching the lives of the people who lived in small towns and country 
villages. It never lost its popularity. Even in nineteenth-century 


England and the United States, the arrival of a group of touring 
actors was an event to which everyone looked forward with eager- 
ness for weeks. The plays were often bad, and the actors worse. 
But what did that matter to people who considered themselves 
lucky if they saw so much as one play a year? To them the 
theatre was enchantmentand it has not lost its magic even with 
the advent of movies, radio and television. 

Now, according to certain prophets, the magic of the theatre is 
on the wane, and in fact there have been times when these prophe- 
cies have seemed on the point of coming true. Certainly, in our 
own day, radio, the movies, and television are giant and formidable 
foes of the theatre. But the cry that the theatre is dying is much 
older than the oldest of these. It was first raised centuries ago, 
before such competition as the movies and other modern forms of 
entertainment were dreamed of. And that is why the theatre is 
often referred to as "the Fabulous Invalid." 

Actually, the theatre has died. It died in ancient Greece, it died 
when Rome fell, and it died again in seventeenth-century England. 
But in each of these cases the corpse was not quite dead, and 
death was only temporary. Like that fabled bird, the phoenix, 
it always rose from the ashes of its dead self younger and stronger, 
ready for new flights of the imagination. And the new live theatre 
always looked different from the old dead one. 

Perhaps that is the kind of death and rebirth that is overtaking 
the theatre now. Although on Broadway it faces fiercer and fiercer 
struggles each year, throughout the rest of the country it gains 
new footholds. You may live in a small town or village, but the 
theatre is no longer a visitor that you can see and hear just once a 
year. Now you can know it well, be a part of it yourself. 

Your grammar-school classes put on short skits. Your high 
school has for years been successfully giving full-length plays. You 
can go to numerous colleges which offer courses in playwriting, 
acting, and production. From Michigan to Texas, from California 
to Carolina, you can attend university theatres, art theatres, little 
theatres, and experimental theatres. Your club, your Sunday school, 
your YMCA or YMHA, all produce plays. And despite the movies 
and radio and television, summer theatres are spreading through- 
out the country. All this, remember, where a few decades ago 
there were hardly any theatres at all. 

Why has there been so tremendous a development? For one 
reason, because the theatre offers its audiences rewards that me- 


chanical inventions cannot hope to match. Its actors and actresses 
are no mere shadows on a screen, no disembodied voices, or 
combinations of voices with shadows shrunk to fit the dimensions 
of a television cabinet. They are flesh and blood, and at their 
best they can move audiences to heights of emotion that their 
rivals rarely attain. 

There is something else, too. When you act on the movie screen 
or over the air, the audience might just as well not exist as far as 
you are concerned. You know it's there and that's all. But when 
you act in the theatre, you and the audience see and hear each 
other, inspire each other. A theatre without an audience is no 

The theatre, then, as we shall consider it, includes a stage 
with actors on it, playing directly before an audience. Some of 
the actors, whatever else they do, must play the roles of imaginary 
characters. That is, a theatre cannot consist of just a series of 
juggling, acrobatic, or trained-animal acts. You can have such acts 
as part of a musical comedy, or even of a serious play. But the 
musical comedy or play as a whole must tell some sort of story, 
no matter how silly, or you don't have theatre: you have only a 
vaudeville show. 

The theatre can be either with or without music. The music 
may be of little importance, or it may be a way of telling the story 
itself. That is why the opera, strictly speaking, is a form of theatre. 
But we shall not consider opera at length in this book because its 
music is paramount, and by comparison the story and acting take 
second place. 

You cannot understand what the modem theatre is and can be 
unless you learn how a play is written (and frequently rewritten), 
how it is produced, directed, and finally put on the stage. This 
knowledge will help you to appreciate how much it takes to produce 
a good play. 

The more you learn about the theatre, the easier it will be for 
you to become a part of it. And as a part of it, you will understand 
why it will not die and stay dead to please the gloomy prophets. 
The theatre is already thousands of years old. In one form or 
another, it has outlived powerful empires and widespread civiliza- 
tions. In one form or another, it will continue to live. 


LET us SOTPOSE that we are reckless enough to attend the first 
performance of a different play on Broadway every night for an 
entire week. What do you think we shall find? 

If it's an average week, we shall come across two plays so bad 
that everyone in the audience asks in amazement: "How did that 
ever get produced?" The critics rip the production apart with their 
most cutting adjectives, and after two or three performances the 
play quietly folds its scenery and silently steals away. 

On the other hand, there may be one play so good that the 
audience can't stop applauding. The critics lavish their choicest 
words of praise upon it, and even the actor with but a single line 
in the second act utters that line with pride. It comes as a shock, 
therefore, to learn that a dozen producers turned the play down as 
a sure flop before one daring soul decided it was worth a gamble. 

In between are the plays that are not very good and not very 
bad, reasonably entertaining, and reasonably unimportant. These, 
naturally, are in the majority. They run for several weeks or 
months, they keep the actors at work, and sometimes they make a 
fair amount of money for their backers. 

Now, plays are very expensive to produce commercially, and 
each one of the failures, or "turkeys," as they are gloomily called, 
has cost many thousands of dollars. You wonder, naturally, how 
people wise in the ways of the theatre could possibly have mistaken 
a turkey for a hit. What on earth has got into author, producer, 
scenic designer, and actors that has made them waste time and 
money on a story that never stood a chance of success? Or, on 
the other hand, what madness has made them turn down what 
turns out to be a sure thing, a play that was certain to be an 
artistic hit, as well as to put a great deal of money in their pockets? 

Is it perhaps because our Broadway theatre people are forced 
to be commercial? Do they think too much about money, and 
thus lose their sense of perspective? That, certainly, can be a rea- 
son. And yet the producers of plays in community and university 
theatres make mistakes that are quite as serious. They may be 
completely indifferent to money, they may think only of artistic 


success. But this success is just as elusive as any other kind. More 
than one director has staked his reputation as an artist on a 
script which audiences and critics have condemned as a piece of 
idiocy or incompetence. 

There are many reasons for failure, which we shall appreciate 
more fully as we learn how difficult a play is to produce. For one 
thing, everyone connected with the theatre has opinions, and 
stands to profit by convincing the world that his opinions are right. 

It's like the story of the Brahman and his goat. A dignified 
Brahman was leading a goat along by a string when three thieves 
saw him, decided that the goat was worth having, and cooked up 
a plot. The first thief approached the Brahman and said, "Good 
day, noble Brahman. Why does a holy man like you lead an un- 
clean beast like a dog on a string?" 

"A dog? This is a goat, a clean and beautiful goat. Out of my 
sight, you liar, you scoundrel!" 

Then the second thief approached the Brahman, and asked 
the same question. At this the holy man became doubtful. Who 
was he to set up his opinion against that of an unprejudiced by- 
stander? This time, as he asserted that the goat was a goat, he was 
less sure of himself. And when the third thief also asked him why 
he was leading a dog, he decided that everyone else was right 
and he was wrong. He turned the goat loose, whereupon the 
happy thieves quickly caught it and ran away with it. 

A producer with his play is like a Brahman with his goat. Some 
of the people he sees try to persuade him that it is a hit, while 
the rest argue that it is a flop. The only eyes with which he can 
view the play while it is still in manuscript are the eyes of his 
imagination and judgment, and these do not always see clearly. 
He knows that everyone who gives him an opinion has some ax to 
grind, from the author who wants his masterpiece put on the stage 
to the actor who wants a bigger part for himself. Is it any wonder 
that he sometimes feels he is groping blindly, and has no idea 
whether the play he is producing is good or bad? 

Well, let us see how the goats and turkeys are born that is, 
how the playwrights create plays, how the producer selects them, 
and then how he chooses the actors and designers and all the other 
skilled people who will get them ready for performance. Let us 
see how the "turkeys" are palmed off as "goats." 


Why does a man write plays? And why are some plays good 
and others bad? 

THESE SIMPLE QUESTIONS cannot be answered simply. Authors 
write for many reasons. Some want fame, others 'are more in- 
terested in the fortune that may come along with it. One man 
may be an actor as well as author, and write in order to pro- 
vide himself with good parts. Or, like Moliere in the seven- 
teenth century, he may be the manager of a troupe of actors 
and find it necessary to furnish them with plays to show off 
their special abilities as comedians. 

But these reasons only scratch the surface of the play- 
wright's purpose. There are more profound motives why a man 
decides to win fame and fortune writing for the stage instead 
of selling shoes or building bridges or trying to become 
President. He has something important to express, a way of 
feeling or of thinking which he wants the world to know. And 
he believes he can best express this in a play. 

Thus, the ancient Greek dramatists, beyond the desire to 
win prizes and be honored by their fellow citizens, wrote to 
express their sense of the mystery or tragedy of human life. 
Euripides and Aristophanes vented their hatred of the stupid- 
ity and tragedy of war. Moliere sought not only to provide 
comedies for his troupe, but to ridicule the follies of his time. 

Shaw penned his first play, Widowers Houses, to provide 
suitable material for a new group, the Independent Theatre, 
which had been organized shortly before and found no English 
plays ready for it. But he also wrote it to express his horror 
of the British slums and the hypocrisies of British life. 

Even the most money-minded dramatist is inspired more 
by the examples of Aeschylus and Shakespeare than that of 
Rockefeller, or he would not be a dramatist at all, he would 
be in the oil business. The Dramatists' Guild, which consists 
of playwrights whose work has been produced commercially, 
has about four hundred active and two thousand inactive 
members. Of the four hundred, a few dozen at most can hope 


for a commercial production in any year. And of these few 
dozen, perhaps ten will earn enough from their plays to live 
on while they write more plays. Consider the thousands of 
dramatists who write without a chance of production, and you 
will realize that the average income for all playwrights will 
not even pay for the cost of typing their manuscripts. The 
most underpaid ditch-digger receives more per hour of work, 
and a quack seller of "cancer cures" has a better chance of 
getting rich. 

As for fame well, the average "fame" amounts to little more 
than recognition by the Copyright Office that the author has 
paid its fee. From the days of Aeschylus on, even the dramatist 
of recognized genius has faced the continued risk of failure, 
and even Shakespeare and Moliere had their flops. 

Does the author write for posterity, for future generations 
instead of his own? Then the chances are even more against 
him, for he has no idea what tastes these future generations 
will have. And experience shows that the greatest playwrights, 
from Aeschylus to Ibsen no matter how advanced they seemed 
to be, how far "ahead of their times" have always been most 
appreciated by their own generation. Posterity is the harshest 
critic of all: it gradually finds many of the old plays more 
and more dull and incomprehensible. 

There remains the one fundamental motive for writing 
plays the desire for the expression of something that appears 
to the playwright to be important, whether it will bring him 
material rewards or not. Given this desire for expression, how 
can the playwright go about his task successfully? 

In the first place, he must realize that the writing of plays 
is not only an art but a craft, and he must learn this craft 
thoroughly. It is advisable, as Arthur Miller suggests in the 
following interview, to go first to the best teachers the great- 
est dramatists of the past not for the purpose of imitating 
them, but to gain insight into their methods, to study their 
weaknesses as well as their strength. 

There are schools for playwrights in universities and in 
various large cities. New York has a New Dramatists* Com- 
mittee Workshop, which was first set up in the City Center 
with the co-operation of the Council of the Dramatists' Guild. 
It provides for discussions with established playwrights, the 
encouragement of tryouts of new plays in college and com- 


munity theatres, and the setting up of a professional laboratory 
in New York to put on new plays. Just as important, it helps 
new authors get radio and television assignments, etc., in 
order to earn a living while working on their plays. 

Having learned that the craft of writing plays is not a 
mystery, you can begin to express yourself with some skill. 
And the first place to apply this skill is in your choice of 
subject, in the idea or theme that will embody what you wish 
strongly to express. 

The idea may come from a story you hear, a newspaper 
account you see. It may come from a daydream in 
which you imagine what would happen if . You may want 
to write a play on a certain theme in order to prove you can 
do better with it than another playwright has done. Marlowe 
and Goethe used the same Faust legend to express vastly 
different ways of looking at life, and Shaw turned the old 
story of Don Juan into a medium for the expression of his 
own philosophy. You may be called on to write a play for a 
certain actor or actress. Or you may have an idea for a wonder- 
ful scene and decide to elaborate the scene into an entire 

Wherever your idea comes from, it will not automatically 
turn itself into a play. You must do some careful dramatic 
construction, and a good place to begin is at the end. 

If you start with Act I, Scene I, and just go straight ahead, 
you may find it impossible to tie up all the loose threads 
and end your play satisfactorily. Therefore, many playwrights 
decide how to end the play and then construct the action 
to lead up to that ending. Much depends on the kind of 
play, on the degree of realism, on the extent to which the 
effect of the play depends on plot. 

Will your play have two acts or three, a single scene per 
act or many? That is determined by the nature of the story 
you have to tell. You plot your action and try to determine 
how the tension will increase, where your climaxes will occur, 
where you had best break off a scene or an act. 

Some playwrights plot in great detail, others very sketchily. 
What you do will depend on the vividness of your imagination, 
the speed with which your characters come alive to you. 

With the plotting sufficiently advanced, you begin to write. 
A man like Lope de Vega (1562-1635) could turn out a play 


in less than a week, and some modern playwrights have 
worked as rapidly, but without equaling him in quality. Shaw 
might take a few weeks to a year. Ibsen often required 
several years. 

Some playwrights write a single draft, make a few verbal 
changes, and consider the play finished. Others, like Ibsen, 
regard the first draft as little more than a skeleton, which 
contains the action of the play and only an outline of the 
characters. Ibsen would go over the play again and again, fill- 
ing in what was needed to round out his characters and make 
them come alive. 

When you have completed a play, it is submitted, through 
an agent, for commercial exploitation. If a producer is suf- 
ficiently interested, he will take an option; that is, he will 
pay you some sum such as five hundred dollars (more if you 
are an established playwright with good bargaining power) 
as an advance against royalties, for the right to do the play 
within a specified time. If he lets the time pass without pro- 
duction, you keep the money and try to sell the play to some 
other producer. Some authors never have plays produced at 
all, and live on the money they get for options. They do not 
live well. 

If the producer wants to go ahead with the play, he will 
almost certainly suggest revisions. If you are George Bernard 
Shaw, you refuse to let anyone change a word. Otherwise, 
you fight what is generally a losing battle at each suggestion, 
and you revise, even to the extent of rewriting the entire 
play. When you have revised to the producer's temporary satis- 
faction, and he does proceed to make plans for rehearsal, 
you find that your work has just begun. 

For now you discover that there are dozens of people 
who have a hand in your play the backers or "angels," the 
director, the scene designer, the actors, and the numerous 
friends and relatives of all these. Each now has an investment 
in a business enterprise. The angels have put in their money, 
and they hover around to protect it; everyone else has put 
in time, reputation, and hopes for the future, and wants to 
guard these. Everyone has an idea for improving the play 
from his own point of view. The angels want to make the 
play more commercial in order to fatten their pocketbooks; 


the actors want to fatten their parts. There are endless sug- 
gestions for new additions and revisions. 

For every good suggestion there may be a dozen bad ones. 
You use your judgment and you revise again and again. At 
some stage of die proceedings, a "play doctor" or collaborator 
may be called in to work with you, to make additional re- 
visions and possibly to share your royalties., if any. You begin 
to feel that the play no longer expresses what you meant it 
to express. And very often you are right. 

You may end with a compromise play that satisfies nobody. 
In that case, key actors resign, the producer calls the whole 
thing quits, the angels lose their investment, and you start 
all over again to try to get your play produced. 

If you are more fortunate, the revised play actually achieves 
production. And now you meet your greatest, your final test 
the audience. 

An audience is critic, teacher, and judge in one, and its 
decisions, although they can be completely mistaken, are 
social judgments. They are not swayed by the purely personal 
factors that influence each of its members. The individual 
critic may be in a glow of good feeling from a well-cooked 
meal or may suffer the pangs of indigestion from a bad one. 
But in the audience as a whole (unless it is either starving 
or overfed, and that happens occasionally), happy and un- 
happy stomachs cancel out. 

The audience is a wonderful critic of writing technique. 
If you have developed your plot in a wrong or confused fashion, 
the audience will show the effects in its own confusion or 
bewilderment. If you have drawn your characters badly, 
the audience will be indifferent to them. No audience will 
tell you how to get things done. But it will tell you whether 
you have done them with reasonable correctness or not. 

However, it is not as a critic of technique that the audience 
is most important. The main thing is, How does it feel about 
the emotion or thought you are trying to express? 

If this arouses no response, your play will be born dead, 
no matter how technically perfect it is. There is hardly 
a week when some play does not open on Broadway which 
leaves the audience either cold or hostile. The same play, in 
London, or possibly no farther away than Greenwich Village 
in New York City, will find a warm and friendly reception. 



Audiences differ tremendously from one another, and the 
playwright, whether he is aware of it or not, does not write 
for audiences in general but for a specific type of audience. 
A play may be a success when first produced, and a failure 
five years later, when the nature of the audience has changed. 
During the depression years, Tobacco Road, with its pretense 
of realism, broke records for length of run; in 1951, when 
the picture of inhuman degradation it presented was no longer 
in style, an attempted revival failed miserably. In the late 
thirties, Saroyan's sentimentally optimistic plays were able to 
win wide response. But by 1950, Pollyannaish plays had gone 
out of fashion, and it was very difficult to get a new Saroyan 
play produced. 

Does this mean that as a playwright you should try to 
gauge what public taste is, and then try to satisfy it? Not at 
all. Certainly you must take public taste into account to some 
extent, just as you must take into account the miseries of 
producers. Large casts of characters mean high expenses for 
salaries; therefore most modern commercial plays have rela- 
tively few characters. The public does not like four-hour plays; 
therefore you increase your chances of pleasing by writing 
shorter works (although if you are a Shaw or an O'Neill you 
can occasionally thumb your nose at this rule and succeed 

But better not try to satisfy a taste that disagrees violently 
with your own. Do not try to write a sentimental play if you 
hate sentimentality, or a melodramatic play if you despise 
melodrama. Some of Broadway's (and Hollywood's) worst 
failures have been the result of trying to carpenter a play to 
the low level of what an author or producer has thought would 
meet the taste of the greatest number. 

Remember that in writing what you do not feel you are 
betraying your very reason for being a playwright. And there 
is the practical consideration that you will meet fierce com- 
petition, and that you will be handicapped in comparison 
with other playwrights who actually share the bad taste of 
part of the public. The great technical skill of Scribe and 
Sardou 1 would never have brought them success if they hadn't 
held much the same shallow views of society as the audiences 

1 French dramatists of the nineteenth century. 



of their day. Neither Aeschylus nor Shakespeare could have 
competed with them at their own game. 

If you study the history of the drama, you will see that 
playwrights have often won surprising success by telling an 
audience the very things it was sure it didrit want to hear. 
Almost a century ago, large numbers of spectators were be- 
coming increasingly disgusted with the falsity of the pictures 
presented on the stages they knew. When Ibsen offered them 
their first icy plunge into greater reality, they shuddered and 
drew back. But in time they came to endure and then to prefer 
him, and no longer possible to endure Scribe and Sardou. 

After the initial shock of Shaw, even British audiences 
began to realize that he did fill a need of which they had 
not been conscious. American audiences, once they had ex- 
perienced the plays of O'Neill, could no longer go back to 
the sentimentality of Augustus Thomas and Clyde Fitch. 

These "advanced" playwrights were not literally a genera- 
tion ahead of their audiences. But they saw more clearly what 
the audiences wanted and even needed. 

You cannot hope for success if you aim too far ahead of 
your audience. But you had better not be behind it, either. 
The strong point of every audience is that it is part of the life 
of its time, and to the extent that it is representative of the 
general public, it can judge this life as pictured on the stage. 
But every audience also has its weaknesses its prejudices, its 
fears, its irrational hopes. 

In ancient Rome, for instance, audiences were brutalized 
and demoralized by scenes of cruelty and lust. The low tastes 
of Rome's audiences are reflected in the inferior plays of its 
dramatists, who never came close to attaining the heights of 
the great Greeks. On the other hand, Aeschylus, in his tragedy 
The Persians., tells of the enemies of his people, the soldiers of 
an empire which had invaded Greece. Nothing would have been 
easier than to present the Persians as beasts of inhuman cruelty, 
to picture them as the most prejudiced of his own people 
might have done. But Aeschylus rose above such feelings 
and pictured the Persians with sympathy and insight. And his 
play still lives as an pxample of his greatness. 

By contrast, Shakespeare in Henry VI panders to the worst 
prejudices of his own day by making Joan of Arc a prostitute. 
Shakespeare's great virtues included a knowledge of human 



nature. Yet, in his portrait of Joan of Arc, in his use in 
Titus Andronicus of a Negro character, Aaron, whose black 
skin is supposed to show a black heart, in his concessions to 
anti-Semitic prejudice in The Merchant of Venice, he is false 
to his own knowledge. His The Taming of the Shrew, with 
its moral for women: "Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy 
keeper," becomes more and more absurd as time goes on. 
Such weaknesses are not enough to kill Shakespeare's plays. 
But in another less towering playwright they might be fatal. 

Thus, the greatness of a playwright will depend to a tre- 
mendous extent on the people who see his plays. A dramatist 
needs an audience which is close to the life of its time and 
takes an active part in that life, an audience which is neither 
too aesthetic and "advanced," nor too vulgarized too much 
prey to the prejudices it has inherited from the past. The 
playwright must give honest expression to the best feelings 
of that audience. 

If your intentions are too serious, or if your plays are not 
sufficiently "commercial" for Broadway, you might try some 
of the noncommercial theatres (ANTA may help you choose 
the right onessee the section on Theatres Throughout the 
Country). At best, the financial rewards are not in a class 
with those that Broadway can offer. But there is a good chance 
in these theatres for new playwrights, and in the future it 
may be possible to live and work on royalties from them. 
Margo Jones, in her Dallas theatre, pays an advance of a 
hundred and fifty dollars against royalties, but her theatre is 
small and holds relatively few spectators, and even if a play 
is unusually successful, the author can hardly hope to receive 
more than five hundred dollars from Dallas. 

There is no reason, however, why the same play cannot 
be performed in a single season in half a dozen or more 
community theatres. Many, like Miss Jones's theatre, are gener- 
ous and helpful to playwrights. When they become sufficiently 
well organized to make joint arrangements for the production 
of new plays and steps in that direction have already been 
takenit will be possible for them to support playwrights who 
have no connection with the Broadway theatre. Some, in fact, 
do have resident playwrights who work on salary, like the 
director and professional actors, as part of the community 
theatre organization. 



Meanwhile, an author whose work is produced in a com- 
munity theatre stands a much better chance of being heard 
on Broadway than an author whose work is not produced 
at all. A few productions do make the transition from the 
noncommercial to the commercial theatre. For this and 
other reasons, no serious playwright can afford to neglect the 
noncommercial theatre, and many a newcomer to the theatre 
is turning his attention to it. 

The community theatre, as we have seen, offers the play- 
wright a different type of audience from that of Broadway. 
It may be too specialized, at times too arty and at other 
times too easily pleased. But very often it is far superior in 
seriousness and understanding to the average Broadway audi- 
ence. Plays that commercial producers shun as "unprofitable" 
are produced by community players to the profit and delight 
of both actors and audience. You stand a better chance of 
finding Shakespeare in the Pasadena Playhouse than on Broad- 
way. And the new playwrights of California and other 
Western states are turning to university and community 
theatres rather than to commercial producers. 

Some authors have earned steady, if not tremendous 
incomes by writing one-act plays for high schools and 
small amateur groups. One play publisher, Samuel French, has 
long been in the market for such plays, which are made 
available in inexpensive paper-bound editions. Here too there 
is a possibility of reaching large audiences of which many 
playwrights are not aware. 

A survey of the most successful legitimate plays on Broad- 
way in recent years ( that is, "straight" drama as differentiated 
from the musical play such as Carousel or South Pacific) 
would show that among the most consistently successful play- 
wrights have been John Van Druten, the famous team of 
Lindsay and Grouse, and a young man named Arthur Miller 
who brings to the theatre a stimulating element of social 
criticism. Another kind of writer important to the drama the 
dramatic criticis well typified by the New York Times* 
Brooks Atkinson. Let's hear from these five writers about the 
pros and cons of Broadway versus the noncommercial theatre, 
and other aspects of the relationship between playwright and 


Why Write a Play? 


Arthur Miller is one of our younger playwrights who 
has established a firm position in the American 
theatre. The critics called his first Broadway play 
"promising." But his next plays, AH My Sons, Death 
of a Salesman, and The Crucible had no need to 
promise anything. They were progressively mature, 
skillfully written, profoundly moving works. 

Mr. Miller is also well known as the author of 
Focus, a novel. During the past few years, how- 
ever, he has been devoting most of his writing 
time to plays and a few short stories. 

What attracts you or any other writer to the theatre? Is it 
the so-called "glamour"? 

AM. One attraction the theatre has for me is that I can see the 
effect of my imagination on people, whereas the impact 
of a novel upon the reader is private and concealed. But 
the reason I write plays rather than nondramatic works is 
that I tend to think and feel in terms of the actual confronta- 
tions of people. I have no patience with the past tense, such 
as a novelist must have; I am stimulated by compactness and 
intensity and immediacy, rather than the diffuse, the con- 
templative, and the historical. In short, I love the dramatic 

I also suspect that most playwrights, myself included, are 
shy actors who act vicariously through their writing. There 
is no other art I know of which permits the author to speak 
to an audience with such directness, without the interference 
of printed words or static pictures, or any other aesthetic 

Would you consider a producer an aesthetic means? Haven't 
you found that your work is seriously hampered because so 
people have a hand in the play? 



A M. No. That is, not any more. (Laughter.} But seriously, a young 
novelist is also up against the unbelief of his publisher. The 
difference is that the play form itself does not permit as 
many moments of boredom as the novel form does. The play 
must work, as a machine works. Consequently, the playwright, 
under the best circumstances, must fend off "fixers" more than 
the novelist has to. He must also know when to listen. 
This is a question of his own judgment and integrity, and it 
is too easy to blame the lack of these qualities upon others. 

The fact is that this kind of interference diminishes as 
the playwright begins to understand production and takes it 
into account as he works. 

An experienced playwright or a neophyte, however, is 
"interfered" with by less obvious, and more damaging forces. 
First, the impossibly high cost of production, which I'm sure 
is preventing the expression of new talents, at least on Broad- 
way. Except for one or two remaining producers, none is 
capable of appreciating really new dramatic modes. Today 
the house must be completely filled in order to keep a play 
running, and this fact erodes courage. Paradoxically, the most 
successful straight plays since the war have been "unorthodox"; 
but they are still hard to get produced. 

Second, the theatre is always very sensitive to the 
climate of public opinion. It is the quickest of the arts 
to take advantage of any clearly discernible change in public 
opinion, and also to shy away from subjects or points of 
view which are under attack by the most vocal sections of 
the press. Today it is impossible to produce on Broadway any 
of the last six plays of O'Casey, who is known to be a radical. 
Money cannot be raised for them. 

How about the critics? Do they damn the play for its opinions? 

AM. Obviously, a play's thesis being hateful to them, critics will 
take advantage of any of its aesthetic weaknesses in order to 
damn it. So will anyone else who cannot bear the theme. It 
was never any different in any country at any time. Never- 
theless, there are plays so beautifully written as to win the 
praises of critics who, as citizens, are antagonists of the authors' 
views. George Jean Nathan and Brooks Atkinson are among 
the strongest supporters of O'Casey; this is a great triumph 



for O'Casey. But lie still can't get produced on Broadway 

As for myself personally, my plays have sometimes been 
attacked politically but, with one exception, not by the drama 
critics. This critic saw my adaptation of Ibsen's Enemy of the 
People as a covert defense of a political minority's right to 
advocate its line. He was, of course, perfectly correct, ex- 
cepting that the defense was open and not covert at all. 
The other critics were not taken by it because it wasn't, for 
certain reasons, good enough. Theoretically, of course, the 
world's greatest masterpiece might well be called rubbish by 
critics if it seemed to advocate something which, should they 
approve it, would challenge their respectability. The fact, 
however, is that this masterpiece and its condemnation do 
not yet exist. 

To change the subject, Mr. Miller, how can young people 
interested in playwriting learn the craft? What training 
would you suggest? 

AM. There seems to be no required background for an aspiring 
playwright. There are professional playwrights who, with no 
formal training of any kind, and with no contact with the 
theatre, except as audience, have begun writing plays suc- 
cessfully. There are also individuals who have served ap- 
prenticeships as actors, stage managers, directors, assistants, 
etc., and have later become playwrights. 

In my opinion, a man learns this craft mainly by prac- 
ticing, and for this he needs paper, pencil, and money. But a 
point arrives when the playwright must see his play produced 
in order to receive the final judgment of his senses and of an 
audience. For this we have no facilities. I think that a miserable 
production of a play which requires fine acting can probably 
discourage a playwright quite as much as no production at 
all. We have no provincial theatres outside of a very few col- 
lege groups, whose quality varies from semester to semester. 

It would also help a young playwright, if he can't attend 
a class, to ask a drama teacher for a list of the outstanding 
plays of the past two hundred years, and read them to find out 
what has been done. Let him read Chekhov, Shaw, Strind- 
berg, Ibsen, O'Casey, Kaiser, Brecht, and Lorca. 



Do you think that, in general, work with a community theatre 
is helpful to a young playwright? Or does it make him 
feel that he is a big frog in a small puddle does it get him 
into a rut? 

A M. Such work can be of great encouragement to a young play- 
wright. At least he'll find out whether he is a frog at all. The 
worst danger that faces him is that no one will pay any atten- 
tion to him, and that he will produce less work than he might. 
Connection with some kind of theatre is better for him than 
being alone. It will encourage him to write additional plays, 
and the more he writes the more he will learn, and the 
better off he will be. But too close an embroilment with the 
theatre blots out the world; again, judgment is all. 

Your own plays, Mr. Miller, were written for Broadway. 
Death of a Salesman, for instance, has a complicated set 
which required careful design and careful production, How 
could a community theatre adjust itself to such a play? 

A M. Actually, Death of a Salesman does not have a complicated 
set. It is the three platforms that make you think of it 
as complicated. I wrote it to be done without a set, and it 
can be played that way. 

I would not have a multiset play, and the reason is not 
primarily economic. The reason is that the changing of one 
box set for another is a waste of time, and obstructs the 
action of a play, bleeding the dramatic effect. It is also 
highly artificial. However, I would advise a young playwright 
not to bother his head with things he doesn't know about, 
like set design. He should just write as well as he knows how. 
Stage techniques follow the plays, not the other way around. 

What types of plays would you advise noncommercial groups 
to present? 

A M. They should emphasize original plays; do Broadway plays that 
are more imaginative and daring than run-of-the-mill produc- 
tions. There is no point to their doing mediocre, unimaginative 
successes that Broadway can and does do better. They should 
take chances. A play of mine once won a college prize contest, 


Courtesy of Kermh Bloomgarden. Photo by Eileen Darby, Graphic House 

I. MfoVecf Dunnodr, Lee J. CODD, Arthur Kennedy, and Cameron Mitchell 
in a scene from Death of a Salesman, by Arthur Miller. 

but it was not produced there because the very people who 
awarded the prize saw no point in backing their judgment by 
showing the play to an audience^ That kind of timidity kills 
the spirit of a theatre. 

Can young people in schools and small communities help the 
theatre reach new audiences? 

A M. They can. First, if they're away from New York and hear of 
a good play> they can ask the producer to send the touring 
company to their town. Second, they can familiarize themselves 
with the British set-up the Arts Council, 



We could have a blossoming of the theatre In this country 
if we had an Arts Council, which would in effect have the 
government acting as a disinterested guarantor against loss, 
while the profits of successful plays would be pooled to offset 
the production costs of possibly uncommercial but worthy new 
plays. This would give producers a strong motive to experiment 
with new playwrights, and would create a feeling of optimism 
and a sense of possibilities which are absent now. It would 
expand production tremendously, offer new openings for hun- 
dreds of actors, and generally create an atmosphere of hope 
and vigor. 

Young people can propagandize this idea among then- 
teachers and parents. And they can keep putting on plays. 

The theatre happens to be the only area left in America 
which is not monopolized by large corporations. In it, thought 
and speech are freer than in any of the other arts. It must 
therefore be protected and expanded. 


to a Subject 


One of the most consistently successful dramatists 
of the past few years, John Van Druten has to his 
credit such hit plays as Young Woodley, The Voice 
of the Turtle, I Remember Mama, Bell, Book and 
Candle, and I Am a Camera. These differ from one 
another so greatly as to indicate a very wide range 
of talent for the theatre-and this talent includes 
directing as well as writing. 

Two of the plays we have listed above are 
adaptations of books. We asked Mr. Van Druten 
about that. 

Why does a man who can write original plays with such skill 
and to such critical acclaim choose to adapt a book to the 

JvD. It doesn't -happen often. It may happen because I have 
nothing of my own to write at the time. There are certain 
books and certain characters that have appealed to me. The 
character of Sally Bowles seemed so easy to dramatize and 
so attractive that I had always known there was a play to 
be written about her. Then, when I heard that someone else 
was writing a play about the Isherwood stories 1 in which she 
appears, changing the locale from Germany to this country, 
and changing Sally Bowles* personality, I was spurred into 
writing 1 Am a Camera. 

The book Mamas Bank Account 2 was sent to me by Rodgers 
and Hammerstein, who wanted to know whether I'd be in- 
terested in dramatizing it. I wouldn't have wanted to make 
a conventional three-act play, but I had always had the idea 
Fd like to do a play with the author sitting off to one side 
and walking in and out of the action, and this book seemed 
perfect for the purpose. That's how I came to write I Remember 

1 Berlin Stories, by Christopher Isherwood, 2 by Kathryn Forbes. 



Z William Prince, Martin 
Brooks, Marian Winters, and 
Julie Harris in a scene from 
I Am a Camera, by Mo Van 

Courtesy of Gertrude Macy. Photo by John Erwin Associates 

I want to write something different, No author wants to feel 
that he's doing the same play again and again with a different 
set of characters, and to start off with someone else's work 
is a challenge. But every play I do has the sound of my 
voice in it, just as every actor's part has the sound of his 
voice in it, 

Isn't there a play in evenj character and every human situa- 
tion? Why is it that you see a play in certain situations and 
not in others? 

J v D, My own instinct tells me. Either the situation strikes me or 
it doesn't. And if it doesn't strike me, it may strike someone 
else. That's a matter for the individual dramatist's inclina- 
tions and abilities. 

Do you take your audiences feelings into account, Mr. Van 
Druten? "You started to write in England and then came to 
the United States. Do you feel that you write for any par- 
ticular audience? 



J v D. You take a great deal of account of the audience, but after a 
time that becomes so much a part of you that you're not 
aware of it. You grow into it as you grow into learning a 
foreign language. By now I suspect I would have difficulty 
in writing for English audiences. 

I don't write for "Broadway" as a special audience. That 
just happens to be the place where the professional theatre is 
centralized, and I write plays that would appeal to a general 

As a playwright, do you feel that it's more important to learn 
from what your contemporaries are doing, or from the 
great classics of the past? Or do you fed that it's most 
important to study staging, acting, and so on? 

J v D. You have to know the classics as you have to learn to read 
and write, but you must know what's going on around you. 
You must see and read contemporary plays. 

You must know a great deal about staging. You get that 
best by watching your own plays being rehearsed. 

For many years my plays were directed by Auriol Lee. 
I never realized how much I learned from her until she died 
and we had to get a new director. Then, as I watched him, 
it struck me, "Why, I can do that," and I tried it. Now I 
feel that no one else can do my plays the way I want them 
done. But you have to know a great deal about the theatre 
to direct. I wouldn't have been equipped to do it when I 

You might direct your own plays to make sure that they're 
done as you want them. But why did you turn to directing 
not only your own plays, but those of others? 

J v D. Because I love directing. When you direct, you're releasing 
every acting and interpretive gift you have. I know, however, 
that I'm a playwright first, and must work as one. I must 
spend more time writing. 

Mr. Van Druten, do you think it would be useful to a young 
playwright to write scenes which show human relationships, 



just as actors study isolated scenes in plays in order to 
develop their facility? 

J v D. No, I don't. A playwright might do scenes as an exercise, but 
he must learn how to put the whole thing together, just as 
a dressmaker must learn to make a complete dress, and not 
just practice sewing on buttons, or making hems, and so on. 
I've never been sure how right and good the writing of scenes 
is. An author would have to do a lot of preparation of the 
people in his mind, and he would end up with a complete 
play anyway if he had ability. 

Can a young playwright learn the art and craft of writing 
in schools and workshops? Isnt there a danger that he will 
lose some of the sharpness of his original concept at the 
same time as he gains technical skill in the workshop? 

J v D. A school or workshop can teach you a certain amount about 
writing plays, but it can't teach you to be a playwright. 
Either you have the ability or you haven't. But even if you 
haven't, you'll learn some technique. And you needn't worry 
about losing the sharpness of your concepts. If you have talent, 
you'll retain it. 

How about having a play produced by a community theatre? 

JvD. It's good for a playwright to have his play produced any- 
where, but it's useless to tell him to aim for the community 
theatres and not to have his eye on Broadway. He can't help 
but have his eye on Broadway. He wants the most the theatre 
has to offer in recognition, financial rewards, opportunity, and 
so on, and the one place he can get them is on Broadway. 
The playwright is in a difficult situation. Nobody demands 
of a plumber or a carpenter that he be the best plumber or 
carpenter in the world. It's enough if he knows how to thread 
a pipe or use a hammer. But a playwright is made to feel 
that he is in competition with every other playwright, from 
Shakespeare on. When he writes a play, he challenges every 
other playwright in the world. And if he's good enough to 
do that, he feels that he's good enough for Broadway. 



There's one ability the playwright is supposed to have that 
you havent commented on, Mr. Van Druten, the ability 
to observe to observe everything. 

J v D. The ability should be there, of course. But you can't force 
yourself to observe. If you try to, you lose sight of things. 
I remember a story by H. G. Wells in which a woman writer 
is asked if she saw a certain thing happen. "I didn't notice 
it," she replies. "I was too busy observing." 

A playwright never knows what is going to be important 
to him later; he can never tell what to record. You can't keep 
a notebook and go back to it later to see what you have 
observed at least, I can't. I'd say, trust your memory. It will 
sift out and retain the impressions and sensations that are 
important to you. 

Everyone is concerned these days with the state of the theatre. 
What do you think of it, Mr. Van Druten? 

J v D. I've lectured over most of the country, and I know that in- 
terest in the theatre does exist. The need for the theatre is a 
wonderful thing in human nature, and all the little-theatre 
groups all over the country are helping to satisfy this need. 
People forget how greatly the quality of the theatre has 
improved during the past fifty years. Think back to the quality 
of the shows that were put on at the beginning of the century. 
The average was very low. Standards have gone up since then, 
and are continuing to go up. There's no justification for any 
extreme pessimism. I'd advise young people just to make plays 
first in homes, if necessary, and then in halls. The theatre is 
going to stay alive, and they can help keep it that way. 



The theatre needs people who are able to work 
together, but rarely does it get any who practice 
that difficult art as well as Howard Lindsay and 
Russel Grouse. Even before they wrote Life with 
Father (which set a Broadway record of 3,224 per- 
formances), State of the Union, and Call Me 
Madam, they had learned the secrets of effective 
collaboration* Their joint career has included own- 
ing and managing the Hudson Theatre, as well as 
writing and producing plays that enliven other 
people's playhouses. In addition, Mr. Lindsay acts 
and directs, and Mr. Grouse has been a theatre 
press agent. They know the theatre from every 

How do you use your knowledge? Do you both do everything, 
or do you divide the work? 

H L. We both do everything together and in each other's presence. 
We talk about story and plot until we're sure of every step 
before we start the dialogue. Then we collaborate on every 
line. That's much better for us. 

RC. We collaborate without any self-consciousness. Ill have no 
hesitancy about bringing up a bad idea. Lindsay will look 
at me as though I were crazy, But he may say, "Now, let's 
take that idea and do this," and out of a bad idea comes a 
good one. 

We started with a secretary, but I was so self-conscious 
in the presence of a third person that we threw out the 

Do you have many differences of opinion about plays, or do 
you think sufficiently alike to have the same judgment? 

R C. We think more alike than most people. Our differences are so 
slight that it's easy to make them meet. 



H L. We think alike about literature, philosophy, politics, etc. We 
approach people the same way. 

Do you ever find yourselves in conflict? 

H L. There's no serious conflict. 

R Co We're both professionals, and although we might have a dif- 
ference of opinion, by the time we're through with the writing, 
we're in thorough agreement about every part of the play. 
If there's complete disagreement, we drop the idea. But this 
rarely happens. 

Do you find that there s a danger of losing perspective when 
you re with a play in so many capacities? 

RC. (as Mr. Lindsay leaves the room to be televised] Yes. That's 
why we consider our third collaborator, the audience, as per- 
haps the most important. This collaborator is smarter than we 
are. It can tell us where a play is wrong, but not how to 
fix it. You can tell by the end of the second act. When you've 
lost their interest, you're gone. 

Life with Father opened in Maine. We had doubts about 
the first act, but not about the rest of the play. That, we were 
sure, would require no rewriting. But the audience had a 
different idea. The first act went well, but it was the second 
act that needed work. 

That's why we try out a play out of town before tackling 
Broadway. Audiences are pretty much the same, unless you 
have a purely local New York play. And they're the best 
judges. No matter how funny we think a line is, if the audience 
doesn't laugh, it isn't funny, and out it goes. And we've found 
that an audience seldom coughs because of colds but because 
of boredom. 

(Upon his return, Mr. Lindsay endorses all this whole- 
heartedly. ) 

Why do you produce plays., in addition to having so many 
other activities? 

R C. There's a curious sort of vanity that is satisfied in sponsoring 



Courtesy of Theatre Arts Magazine. Photo by Vandamm 

3. Howard Lindsay and Dorothy Stickney as Father and Mother 
Day in a scene from Life With Father, by Howard Lindsay and 
Russel Grouse. 

a play that we have faith in and having audiences and critics 
support our judgment. But we never produce our own plays. 
That would destroy our perspective, and we would then be 
much too closely involved. An outside producer can do a 
much better and more objective job. 

HL. I also lose a certain advantage when I'm acting in a play. 
You can't have the same judgment of the audience's reactions 
when you're on stage as when you're out front. When I'm on 
, stage, I know when I'm holding the audience, but if I'm offstage 
when we lose them, I don't know where or when it happened. 
I just know when I come on again that we're not holding 
their interest. 

How do you agree on a play to write together? And how 
do you select a play by an outsider? 



R C. The method differs. Critics complain that young playwrights 
don't write about serious things. Well, moral integrity seems 
to us to be a vital subject, and we want it in all plays, 
whether it's our own State of the Union, or One Bright Day, 
which we produced. 

We also have to think, "Will the audiences like it?" that 
is, "Will the play make money?" We feel that the theatre 
should be entertaining. People won't pay just to be lectured 
at. But if you can combine entertainment with the lecture, 
that's great. The theatre is commercial, but it's purpose is not 
just to make money. 

When we did State of the Union, everyone was talking 
politics. Roosevelt was responsible, with his fireside chats and 
his ability to bring politics home to the average man and 
woman and make it part of their lives. We decided to write a 
play that would get people to take a greater interest in poli- 
tics, but it had to be entertaining too. 

When we have a general idea like that, we talk it over 
until we get a more definite dramatic idea, or else throw 
it out. In this case, we got a definite dramatic idea. 

How about acting talent outside of Broadway? Do you have 
any idea of how much there is? 

H L. No, Tm sorry to say that we don't know about acting talent 
outside New York. 

R C. We may run across an actor by accident. Once my wife was 
at the dentist's, and she happened to look at a magazine that 
had a picture of a girl who, she thought, might take a part 
in Remains To Be Seen. So we tried this girl out. Unfortunately, 
she wouldn't do. But that's a rare thing. 

What about writing talent? Do you do anything to help en- 
courage that? 

H L. We're working closely with the New Dramatists' Committee. 

Because of time limitations, we cannot read all plays submitted 

to us. It would be wonderful if we could. 
R C. We don't read plays at all when we're working on a play of 

our own. We just have no time. We read only when we're 

planning to produce. 



What advice would you give to an unpwduced playwright? 

HL. Playwriting is a difficult craft, but a playwright always 
learns more when a play is in production. If he can have it 
produced in a community or university theatre, that would be 
very helpful. And anything that helps train good new play- 
wrights certainly helps the theatre in a period like this. 


the Critic or a Play? 


Since 1925, when Brooks Atkinson gave up the 
literary editorship of the New York Times to be- 
come its drama critic, he has been one of the most 
popular writers on the theatre. His reviews reach 
hundreds of thousands of readers, including many 
who rarely or never see a play themselves. Before 
coming to the Times, Mr. Atkinson had been as- 
sistant to the drama critic of the Boston Transcript. 
All in all, he has seen a tremendous number of 
plays and has undoubtedly influenced the course 
of the theatre in our times. 

What is the function of the critic in the theatre? Would it be 
just as well off or perhaps better off without him? 

B A. I work for a newspaper, and my function is to be a reporter 
for people who are interested in going to the theatre. Mine 
differs from other forms of reporting in that it's subjective, and 
not objective. The basic news about the theatre is, "Is it good 
or bad?" And that is a matter of opinion. 

In my Sunday columns, I also write as a reporter. I report 
on subjects that have news interest, and I hang my column 
on a news-peg. I don't usually write essays. When I do, it's 
only because there's no noteworthy news. 

As a critic I'm interested in the theatre, in seeing it grow. 
I believe in trying to be judicial but I'm not objective. No one 
is objective. No work of art is objective, and no critic is 
equally receptive to every kind of theatre. Even with that 
point of view, however, I make an attempt to look at a play 
from the point of view of the people who are doing it. 

Then if all the critics were to disappear as if by magicyou 
don't think the theatre would benefit? 

B A. I don't think so. Critics are not an isolated group of people. 
They're members of the public. One of the biggest pieces of 
folklore is that critics make or break a play. Well, I remember 



one play we tried to make Billy Budd. I praised it not once 
but several times, and other critics did the same. But the 
public stayed away, and the play closed. On the other hand, 
we jumped on Tobacco Road with both feet and it went on 
to break the record for length of run. 

Some people say that critics have power. I say that they 
have no power. All the power is on the stage. What the critics 
can do is transmit power; they can reflect it in their views. 

Apart from the question of quality, don't forget that there 
are other factors that determine whether a play will be a 
success, especially the economic factors. 

To whom is your criticism directed? Do you criticize for the 
sake of the actor, author, or director or for the sake of the 

B A. Not for the sake of the actor and author, or the director. If I 
tried to do that, I'd be a director. If you're looking for really 
creative criticism, look to the directors. Any critic who ap- 
proaches his work from the point of view of molding actors 
and authors should be functioning as a director. 

So you dont think that actors and authors learn anything from 
the critics? You believe that all they're interested in is a 
good review for the sake of the success of the play? 

B A. I can't see that a critic can do them much good. Criticism may 
be interesting to them as coming from a third party, as being 
an echo of what they've done. It may clarify their minds 
about what they've accomplished. In that sense they may 
benefit to some extent from criticism. 

Has criticism ever done any good? Aristotle has been called 
the first great critic. Over a period of two thousand years, 
did anybody pay serious attention to his ideas? And if any 
attention was paid, did the theatre benefit? Did he help 
playwrights to write better plays? 

B A. I am anti- Aristotelian. I think that his sort of dogmatic criticism 
put a straitjacket on the theatre. It didn't help the theatre. 
Tradition that replaces life can be a bad influence. That's 



what makes academic criticism pompous and pedantic. If well 
done, criticism is a form of art, in which the critic, as a human 
being, responds to the ideas and emotions in the theatre, 
painting, or any other form of art. 

It may sound pretentious, but Anatole France had the right 
idea when he said that criticism is the adventures of the soul 
among masterpieces. 

If you want the name of a great critic, there was Shaw. 
Shaw's biographer, Archibald Henderson, says that Shaw wasn't 
a great critic, but a great provocateur and pamphleteer. But 
no laws or definitions apply to genius, and Shaw was a genius. 
He fought numerous battles and had a corrective influence on 
the theatre of his day. He was intensely personal, and his 
motive was to create a new theatre. And as critic and play- 
wright, he did it. 

How does one become a critic? 

B A. Personally, I was interested in newspapers first, and I still am. 
It's a form of work I like. I'd say that if you want to become a 
critic you should have newspaper training and a background 
in newspaper reporting. I'm skeptical of people coming straight 
out of the theatre to a newspaper. The point of view is too 
specialized. It's difficult to take a public point of view where 
personal associations are strong. 

Go to the theatre, read reviews. You can't know too much 
about the theatre. Learn the background, learn how it got 
started. Know all the standard plays. And know a lot about life 
outside the theatre. New playwrights sometimes come to New 
York and score successes and then lose contact with the life 
from which they drew their strength. The critic faces the same 
danger when he becomes too closely involved with the theatre. 
The theatre life is an ingrown life, unhealthy when isolated. 

Why are there no women critics? 

B A. There's no reason that I can see why a woman can't be a 
critic. We did have a woman critic, Willela Waldorf, in New 
York, and in Chicago we have Claudia Cassidy, who is one of 
the best, and in Boston, Elinore Hughes, also one of the best. 



Do you think that a good critic would make a good playwright, 
as Shaw did? 

B A. It requires a very different type of mind. As I said, Shaw is 
the exception to the rules. But I'm a commentator, and I've 
never in my life had the kind of original creative idea that a 
playwright needs. 

Do you get much chance., Mr. Atkinson, to see community 
theatres outside New York? 

B A. Some chance. Every year I try to organize a trip to see what is 
being done. These theatres fulfill a very vital function. In some 
respects they're better off than Broadway. The productions are 
less expensive, and done on a more amiable basis. Community 
theatres do many more classics and semiclassics. They remind 
us that if the economics of the theatre were different, a lot of 
the things we don't see in the commercial theatre would have 
a public. 

We have a tendency to end an interview with the same ques- 
tion, Mr. Atkinson. What do you think will happen to the 
theatre in the United States? And what can young people 
do to revive and strengthen the theatre in their communities? 

B A, The theatre has always been on the verge of disaster, but I 
think it'll keep going. To young people, Yd say: Go to the 
theatre, put on amateur plays. Just make theatre. Have some 



IN ANCIENT EGYPT, the earliest plays dealt with the tragic life 
and death of a god. Now it is a new and sometimes tragic god, 
the Producer, who determines the life or death of a play. 

The producer wields his supernatural powers by virtue of 
his control of the money needed for production. Thirty or more 
years ago, when the cost of putting on a play was rarely more 
than ten thousand dollars, he preferred to invest his own 
money and keep most of the profits of a successful run. Now, 
with costs from five to ten times as high, he must raise most 
of the amount needed from the angels whom he can influence. 
These angels do not spend their every moment hymning his 
praise. Instead, they examine his record and try to decide 
whether he will lose their money for them or multiply it sev- 
eral times over. 

In this arduous attempt they are guided by their general 
estimate of what he knows about the theatre. 

What he should know is everything. Not only must he 
know plays, he must know people. He must be able to appoint 
capable assistants of the right kind for the type of play he is 
producing: director, scene designer, stage manager, and others. 
He must know how to get them to work together, how to re- 
duce the egos of authors and actors in one breath, and how to 
soothe their feelings in the next. 

He had better know something about everything that any- 
one else knows how to write a play (he will have to tell the 
author how to rewrite it), how to direct (so that he may be 
able to direct the director if he thinks the latter is not on he 
right track), how to design scenery (so that he may suggest 
to the designer ways of saving money in his designs ) . He must 
be aware of what goes on backstage, he must keep track of the 
publicity, he must make sure that his stage crew violates no 
union regulations. 

All this knowing requires a background of considerable 
experience in the theatre. Once in a while a producer comes 
along who doesn't know the theatre, but does have money, 



and does have an idea of the kind of play he likes. In that case 
he will hire people to get things done for him. If he is un- 
usually lucky, his play will be a success. More likely, it will be 
an expensive education to him. 

Of all the things he must be able to do, however, none 
remains more difficult than choosing his next play. He is 
continually trying to answer the question: "What is the dif- 
ference between a play that will succeed and one that will 

He can answer this question in general, but he falls into a 
sweat when he realizes that he can never know for certain 
with regard to any particular play. If he remains a producer 
long enough, he is sure to put on a turkey which the critics 
will proceed to carve for him with their most cutting epithets. 
And sooner or later, some play he has himself labeled a turkey 
will be put on by another producer in a way that lets the 
actors sink their teeth into it and turn it into a smash hit. 
He has his moments of success and glory, or he would not be 
able to remain a producer and raise money for his next play. 
But in general he leads a manic-depressive life, alternating 
between the heights of achievement and the depths of failure. 
Should he try to put on a play he likes or one he thinks 
the public will like? Most successful producers, as you will see 
from the interviews which follow, put on plays they like. 
The fact is that they never can tell what the public will like, 
and must therefore rely upon their own judgment, 

But that doesn't settle the question, for the producer must 
still take some account of public taste. Suppose the play for 
which he develops an affection is too different from the usual 
commercial play. Then the public may not like it, and hell 
lose all the money he invests, and angels will shy away from 
his next production. On the other hand, suppose the play does 
not suffer from the curse of being different; suppose it is a 
prime example of a commercial play. In that case, critics and 
public may jump on it and say, "We've seen this same thing a 
thousand times. Why bother to put it on again?" 

The producer thus wavers between the impulse to do the 
same safe thing and the urge to do something different and 
daring. And, in the end, he usually decides on the basis of 
what he thinks will pay best. 

For many producers, the theatre doesn't pay at all. There 



were 105 producers listed in New York for the 1951-1952 sea- 
son, but the majority of these did not produce anything. 
Formerly Broadway would see more than two hundred new 
productions a season; now it is not likely to see more than 

The first difficulty is obtaining a theatre building. It is 
questionable whether, considering the present condition of the 
commercial stage, there is an actual shortage of suitable build- 
ings. For the 1951-1952 season, for example, only thirty theatres 
were available for plays, and the number may still be de- 
creasing. But there are rarely more than thirty producers who 
want theatres at the same time. 

There would therefore seem to be enough theatres, if not 
for the fact that the owners have a keen eye for possible hits. 
The owners follow the fortunes of every play from the beginning 
of production, and they often refuse to rent a theatre for 
what seems to them like certain failure, if they can hold off 
and secure some play seemingly destined for a long run. 

The theatre once rented, the owner sits back and relaxes, 
while the producer finds himself with a new worry on his 
hands. For it turns out that rents are so high that he must 
take in a considerable sum at the box office to so much as 
break even. 

Along with the rents, other costs have also risen. The prices 
of costumes and sets have doubled and tripled. Salaries are 
high, although, curiously enough, of the actors who receive 
them few can make a living in the theatre. Because of the small 
number of hit plays produced, actors work so infrequently 
and for such short periods that their total income is low. The 
stage hands do better. There is enough work on television to 
keep most of them occupied and happy. 

All in all, to keep a drama running, the box office must 
gross from about $10,000 a week for a one-set small-cast 
modern play to $20,000 for a play like Shakespeare's Richard 
If, which requires a large cast. For a musical, the sum is much 
higher. If ticket sales fall below the break-even level and 
threaten to drop further, the producer usually decides to close 
quickly, and cut his losses. 

As expenses continue to rise, the number of successes de- 
creases from year to year. It has been estimated that about 
one drama out of every eight is profitable and one musical out 



of every three or four. Possibly a dozen producers, therefore, 
can count on hits in a season. 

When a show does make money, the investors are first 
paid off. The producer then splits the rest of the profits with 
the investors, usually on a fifty-fifty basis, although some pro- 
ducers take less in profit and pay themselves a salary. But 
even a hit show is not the same thing as a profit-making show. 
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn received good reviews and ran for 
months, each week recovering part of the original cost but not 
all of it. When it closed, it showed a loss of approximately 
$100,000. Shakespeare's King Lear, an excellent production of 
the 1950-1951 season, with no author's royalties to pay, opened 
to critical applause, lost money, and closed after a short run, 
although numerous people still wanted to see it. (See the in- 
terview with Edith Atwater.) 

There is another expense the producer often has to pay 
these days, of a kind unheard of thirty years ago. Because of 
the need to attract angels, he must often give readings, or 
auditions. He arranges for actors to read the parts of a play, 
and to do the songs and some of the dances of a musical. Along 
with the performance, the wily producer supplies champagne 
and caviar in order to induce a generous mood. If the angels 
are not sufficiently impressed to invest their money, the free 
show must be repeated before another group. 

In his efforts to find a play that has already been tested 
before an audience, and thus avoid some of the dangers of ex- 
perimenting, the producer will keep in touch with what Is 
going on in London, Paris, and the theatre abroad in gen- 
eral. He may even do some traveling himself. And once in a 
while he will transplant to Broadway a play that has already 
beeft put on successfully by a noncommercial theatre in this 

The noncommercial producing groups share many of the 
headaches of their commercial colleagues. They are faced, par- 
ticularly, with the problem of selecting the right play. 

Does your noncommercial group intend to put on a new 
play? Then you need taste, good judgment, and experience 
to help in selecting something good. You must select for the 
kind of audience you have, not the one on Broadway. The 



play must say something, whether in a serious or humorous 
vein, that this audience wants or needs to hear. 

Compared with the Broadway producer, you have several 
disadvantages in putting on new plays. Well-known dramatists 
will not generally give you first choice of their best plays they 
cannot afford to. And once you have chosen the play, you 
cannot always give it a first-rate production. From director to 
actors, you are likely to be dealing with amateurs who lack 
experience and knowledge of the theatre. It is therefore far 
from usual to find an outstanding new play put on effectively 
by the average noncommercial theatre group. Only the best 
university and community theatres can do the careful work 
the play needs to appear at its best. 

But even if your group is a small one, you have advantages 
too. You are not limited by the dilemma of choosing between 
smash hit or flop. You can be satisfied with moderate financial 
success. You can choose the plays that commercial producers 
cannot touch, the plays that are so strikingly different that a 
Broadway audience would shy away from them. It may be that 
your audience has better, less limited tastes. 

Noncommercial groups tend to center their efforts on re- 
viving well-known plays. On this point, practically every per- 
son we have interviewed is in agreement: Don't choose a 
Broadway play just because it has been a commercial success. 
Where skill in acting and care in production are needed, you 
will find it difficult to compete with the commercial theatre. 
But where imagination and daring are required, you have your 
chance. You can put on classics that, because of Broadway 
expenses, the commercial theatre cannot touch. Broadway 
shies away from plays with large casts; expenses for salaries 
are too high. But for a large amateur group, the more in the 
cast the better. Everybody is able to have some part in the 

You can put on plays that have been tried on Broadway 
and have failed because they were not adapted to Broadway 
audiences. But they may have things to say that your audience 
considers important. Don't forget that some Broadway flops 
have been successes abroad. In considering what to produce, 
don't automatically limit yourself to what has already been a 
commercial success. 

Once you and the rest of your group have chosen a play, 



you must take the same care in its production as if you had 
thousands of dollars invested. You must select the best pos- 
sible director, scene designer, manager, etc., go through the 
agonies of casting, and try to arrange the widest possible sale 
of tickets. 

In general, you will do well to simplify as much as possible. 
Remember that the actual physical production of a play can 
be exceedingly complicated, and that you can easily be 
swamped by the details of costumes, scenery, and props. To 
handle these details successfully requires considerable expe- 
rience. You can make your own job easier by eliminating 
potential difficulties before you start. Unless you have the 
facilities of some of our better-equipped university theatres, 
avoid complicated settings and elaborate costumes, and shun 
stage effects that require too great skill in lighting and ex- 
ceedingly accurate timing. As much as you can, reduce the 
chances for making mistakes. 

Like the commercial producer, you have to worry about 
box-office sales. He has an experienced press agent to publicize 
his play. You can adopt certain of the press agent's methods. 

It is not enough to send a notice to the newspapers, or to 
make an announcement to a club or high-school group. For 
publicity, you must be both thorough and imaginative. 

First, suggests James D. Proctor, a press agent with wide 
experience in a great variety of plays and musicals, list all the 
newspapers, magazines, and radio stations in your community. 
Study this list, and decide what departments or outlets would 
be most interested in your play. 

Second, gather all the facts about your play, and write 
news releases. 

Third and most important interview everyone concerned 
with the play, from chairman of the production committee to 
the carpenters on the set. Where you find an interesting and 
unusual point of view about the play, dig deeper. Write down 
the information, think about it, summarize the most important 
points, and then barge into an editor's office or a radio station 
ready to discuss the possibility of a feature story. 

Take pictures that have news value, not necessarily those 
that flatter the actors, but those that the reader will find in- 
teresting to look at. 

As Mr. Proctor summarizes it: "First, be accurate and hon- 



est. Second, be Imaginative within the area of truth and 

You can see by now that a producer's lot is not an easy one. 
It was much simpler in the old days when a theatre owner 
was the producer of his own shows, or when the producer was 
known as the manager and did not have to face the endless 
problems that are now occasioned by the high costs of putting 
on a play. These problems will probably become more rather 
than less difficult as time goes on. 

Remember, by the way, that in a producing organization 
the functions carried out by a single commercial producer 
may be split up among several people, bearing the title of 
director, artistic director, etc. But, whatever the tide, the 
headaches are essentially the same. Some inkling of these 
headaches and also of the creative challenge of the producer's 
jobwill become apparent in the interviews that follow. 


How Our Theatre Has Changed 


The dean of American producers, John Golden re- 
cently celebrated fifty years in the theatre. During 
his long career as song-writer, actor, playwright, 
and especially as producer, he has seen consider- 
able changes take place, but he has never stopped 
bringing the theatre to the public. In a previous 
generation, his Lightnin set a Broadway record for 
length of run. When we interviewed him, he was 
doing a revival of The Male Animal and planning 
to put on additional plays. 

Mr. Golden, have the changes in the theatre been for the 
better? Has there been any improvement in acting, in the 
quality of the plays? 

G. Yes, there's been improvement. When I was young, heroines 
were pure, the hero was good, and the villain was the dirtiest 
dog that ever breathed. The audience accepted seriously lines 
and situations that would bring a howl today. I remember one 
play, The Phoenix, in which the villain announced in a voice 
that carried through the theatre, "Little does she know that I 
will lure her to my yacht, and ruin her at my leisure." And 
all the while, the heroine he meant to victimize stood four 
feet away from him, completely unaware of his plans. 

In the background, of course, you had Sophocles, Shake- 
speare, and Shaw. But they didn't have much influence on 
the everyday theatre, not as much influence as ignorance 
and prejudice. Do you know, for instance, why so many 
theatres were called "opera houses/* why there are still about 
a hundred "opera houses" in the United States today? Not 
because operas were given in them, but because to many 
people the theatre was a hideout for the Devil, and they 
wouldn't permit it to exist under its own name. You had to 
call it an opera house to make it respectable. You couldn't 
give a vaudeville show on Sunday in New York or in many 
other cities. You had to call it a "concert," even if the musical 
program consisted of performers like Al Jolson doing songs 



like "Mammy." That kind of thing hurt the theatre, and we're 
better off without it. 

Has the acting improved? Yes, the actors are more like 
human beings there's less hokum and more honesty. There's 
less of the grand manner. You may have heard of Salvini, the 
great Italian actor. One of the things that made him great was 
a voice you could hear three blocks away. But there were a 
few stars who didn't bellow. William Gillette was one of them. 
He made all the rest of his cast do the shouting, and he himself 
spoke in a quiet way that was very effective. 

The theatre's more real now, closer to life. But it's lost 
something too. It's better, but it isn't more fun. 

Jou mean for the audience, Mr. Golden? 

JG. For most of the people in it. Take the actors, for instance. 
In the old days there was a wall of mystery between them and 
the audience. Nobody could go backstage but the people who 
worked there. Neither the actor's wife or children, nor his 
friends. And, of course, no strangers. A star like Ada Rehan 
always wore a veil in public, and she never dined in a public 
restaurant. And when she left the theatre, she disappeared. 
The public's curiosity about her was always whetted and 
never satisfied. 

Nowadays there are four thousand actors without jobs. 
And there's no glamour in an actor who has to sell shoes or 
wait on table. In those days, the average actor didn't have to 
spend most of his time looking for work. He acted. There were 
theatres everywhere. I remember playing thirty weeks in the 
same play in New England, moving to a different theatre each 

How about the producer? 

J G. The producer is becoming more and more unimportant. The 
director is taking his place. The producer is now a man who 
knows a lot of rich people and can persuade them it's more 
fun to bet their money on actors than on race horses. 

That isnt true of you, Mr. Golden, is it? 



J G. No. I always put up all my own money. Nobody has produced 
so many failures. You can't help having failures when you put 
on one hundred and fifty-seven plays. But I've had fifty hits 
and that's a pretty good average. 

Why do you use your own money? 

JG. Because I trust my judgment, and if the play's a success, I 
don't want to have to share the profits. And if it's a fail- 
ure, I don't want to have any explaining to do. 

You say that the director is taking the producer's place? 

JG. In the old days, the producer was head man. The author had 
great authority too, and assisted in the staging. Formerly, the 
stage manager did most of the directing, what there was of it. 
Now, as you know, he handles the show only after it starts. 
There were great actors before there were directors Edwin 
Booth, Joseph Jefferson, and later William Gillette and David 
Warfield. They became great without direction. You can in- 
clude Frank Bacon too, although he did have direction later 
on. But the theatre changed, thanks to Shaw and Ibsen and 
what was going on in the rest of the world, and direction be- 
came more important. 

So did the director. He's become a great person. The job 
made the man. Nowadays the director decides on everything 
not only on the actors, but on the sets and costumes and the 
play itself. Sometimes he begins with the author and adds 
enough to the play to become co-author. 

How about the author? Is his lot a happy one? 

J G. It's frustrating. He has a most difficult job. He creates char- 
acters that he can almost see. And then the play is cast, and 
he has to give up all his dreams about how the characters look. 
The theatre breaks a playwright's heart. Everything depends 
on others. The success of opening night depends on the good 
health of the army behind the curtain line and a dozen drama 
critics in front, who have seen everything to be seen. 

As an individual, the author's more important than anybody 
else in the theatre. The theatre has enough actors and di- 



4. Martha Scoff, Robert Pres- 
fon, oncf EHhH Nugenf In a 
scene from The Male Animal, 
by James Tfturber and El/Joft 

Courtesy of John Golden. Photo by John Erwin 

rectors more than enough for the jobs it can offer. The only 
thing it needs is good plays. And you can't have good plays 
without good playwrights. 

How about the cost of production? 

JG. That's part of the trouble. Under present conditions, the stage 
can't give many new writers a hearing. TV is the place for new 
writers to learn. 

Do you think that TV will replace the live theatre, Mr. 

JG. No, the live theatre will never die. There will always be 
people who want to get together in one place and see live 
actors. But in many ways, the future of tie theatre is with 
TV. TV and the radio and the movies have made it almost im- 
possible for the theatre itself to compete. A man puts down a 
ten-dollar bill for two orchestra tickets to The Male Animd 
and he gets forty cents in change. He thinks that's outrageous 
-and it is. But I have no choice. Even at these prices, I still 
haven't made any profit on the show. 



Compare that with TV. The industry spends millions pro- 
ducing its product-and then gives that product away! We 
just can't compete with that kind of thing. TV is close to live 
drama, closer than the movies. In the movies you take a scene 
eight or ten times, from different angles. And if you don't like 
anything that you get, you can cut the scene out altogether. 
The movies are full of tricks. But on a live TV program, as on 
the stage, the actor has to act, and no mistake about it. 

Do you think that the quality of TV compares with that of 
the stage? 

JG. No, not yet. You have some good plays, well acted, well 
produced. You have people like Worthington Miner who do 
fine jobs. But in many ways TV is back where our theatre was 
fifty years ago. The lines were crude, the humor was for chil- 
dren. It was great fun for one comedian to slap another in 
the face with a custard pie, or to slip on a banana peel The 
movies had to go through that phase when they started, and 
so did radio and television. Television is still in it. 

The movies gave nothing to the stage. One well-known 
actor, after doing a term in the movies, came to me for a part 
in a play. He asked a ridiculously low salary. I wanted to 
know why he'd accept so little, and he said he wanted to act. 
In his last movie, a dog stole the show. The dog whined over 
his dead master's grave, and after a while he dug into the 
ground to get closer to his master. But they got him to whine 
by beating him till his tail was between his legs, and they 
got him to dig by burying meat in the ground. That's the 
movies. You touch people's hearts by using tricks. On the stage 
you do it by acting. 

On TV it's acting too. That's why I have hopes for it. 

Do you think you can bring young people closer to the theatre 
by amateur productions, Mr. Golden? 

JG. You can't bring them to the theatre that way. You can get 

them to learn from amateur productions. Young people who 

like each other and like to do the same things together should 

form groups. If they like the theatre, they'll learn in it. 

But such groups won't cure the Broadway theatre. We 



need good new playwrights. iVe done what I could to en- 
courage them. I engaged a teacher of writing for the High 
School of Performing Arts, and I go over there often. Two of 
the youngsters, still in their teens, have sold plays to the 
Samuel French firm. I hope they're even more successful in 
the future. 

The one big thing wrong is that there aren't enough pro- 
ductions the public wants to see. The only prescription the 
Fabulous Invalid needs is more good plays. 


How a Producing Group Is Formed 


As one of the founders and more recently one of 
the two codirectors of the Theatre Guild, Theresa 
Helburn has been active in play production for 
more than thirty years. Beginning with an amateur's 
interest in the theatre, she long ago attained a 
professional knowledge of it that few others can 

Will you tell us about the origin of the Theatre Guild, Miss 
Helburn? The Guild is really a continuation of the group 
known as the Washington Square Players, is it not? 

TH. Even before the Washington Square Players, a group of us 
used to get together once a week at someone's house, have 
dinner, and read a play aloud in character. It was the pleas- 
antest way we had of spending our evenings. Many of the 
people in that group were later involved in the formation of 
the Washington Square Players. 

In those days, few people used to read plays. When I was 
asked to lecture on the drama at a large girls' school shortly 
after I had finished English 47 at Harvard, I remember asking 
the students whether they had read any plays, and they said, 
"No." "Haven't you read any Shakespeare?" I inquired, and 
the answer was "Oh, yes," in terms of such boredom that I 
was shocked. At the request of the head of the school, I or- 
ganized a Shakespeare class the following season and spent all 
of three months just reading Twelfth Night aloud and discuss- 
ing the meaning and intent of each line from an actor's point 
of view. It was an exciting experience for us all. 

Many years later I was interested to find that the Lunts, 
before deciding on the new plays we suggested to them from 
time to time, would get their group together to read a script 
aloud. With other Theatre Guild plays too, we often used this 
method for testing its needs and values. We organize what is 
called an "Equity Reading," with well-chosen paid actors to 



read the parts. This is always of great value to the author as 
well as the producers. 

I would suggest that young people who would like to make 
a start in the theatre form reading groups. It's enjoyable, and it 
might ultimately lead to a more ambitious theatre group. 

Do you believe, Miss Helburn, that the Guild system of having 
a group select plays, rather than a single individual, helped 
it attain success? What happened when there were dif- 
ferences of opinion? 

T H. The majority vote carried. We sometimes had spirited fights 
over plays, and sometimes my side lost plays that it hurt me to 
give up. However, it's been ten or twelve years since that com- 
mittee functioned. At present there are just Mr. Langner and 
myself. When we both like a play, it increases the range of 
audience appeal. 

Courtesy of The Theatre Guild and Joshua Logan, Photo by Zinn Arthur 
5. A scene from Picnic, by William Inge. 



Do you think the committee system would be useful for com- 
munity theatres? 

T H. Committees are very unwieldy, but I'd say yes, if a committee 
is really active. A majority vote is always better it gives you 
more of a cross-section of your theatre audiences. And the 
committee itself learns from the differences of opinion and dis- 
cussions. Of course, if it has any inactive members, it should 
get rid of them. 

How many plays are submitted to the Guild annually? And how 
are they submitted? 

1 H. We receive about five hundred to six hundred plays a year, 
but many of these have to be returned unread. Only in rare 
instances do we consider unsolicited manuscripts. We try to 
get the authors to submit them first to established agents. 
Agents perform a useful function in filtering out the plays 
that show no promise, and there are many of these. Of course, 
we get a great many plays through our personal contacts 
with authors. After thirty-three years in the theatre we naturally 
have very wide contacts. 

Does the Guild raise money for production in the same way 
as other producers? 

T H. We always used to use our own money exclusively, and any 
profits on successful plays went to defray the losses of the 
unsuccessful ones. Now that it costs so much more to put on 
a play, we raise funds from the usual sources, but we always 
put in some of bur own money, too. 

Do your subscribers help? 

T H, They help pay for the running costs. But they can be a liability 
if the play is a failure. Subscriptions may be sold for several 
weeks in advance, and the play may lose money every week 
it's kept going. 

Do you have subscribers in different cities, for your tours? 


TH. We have subscribers in more than twenty cities. We offer 
subscriptions to from four to six plays in advance, not only 
for our own productions, but for good plays of other manage- 
ments too. And this year we have been co-operating with the 
Council of the Living Theatre in developing our subscription 
audiences even further. 

You have nothing like branches in other cities? 

T H. No, that would be impractical, but we do use Mr. Langner's 
summer theatre, the Westport Country Playhouse, for ex- 
perimental productions and try outs. 

Hq$ the increase in the cost of production affected the Guild 
as much as it has other producers? 

T H. It probably has affected us more, because we like to do plays 
that have less obvious commercial appeal, and that has be- 
come increasingly difficult. Formerly, if a play failed, we'd 
lose from two to seven thousand dollars on it, but we'd make 
that up on the success of the next play. Now, a flop means a 
loss of twenty-five to fifty thousand, and we can't risk that 
very often. A great deal of the fun of the theatre is gone. 

It affects us in other ways, too. When we started, thirty- 
four years ago, we set out to fight the star system and de- 
velop a level of ensemble playing. Since then, the rise of talk- 
ing pictures and radio and television, and the tremendous 
rise in costs, have made the star more important than ever. 
Luckily, however, the level of ensemble acting is also higher 
than ever. 

The theatre seems to be flourishing in other countries, Miss 
Helburn y even in countries like England that are in a bad 
way financially. It's only in the United States that the com- 
mercial theatre seems to be in a bad state. Would you care 
to suggest what could be done for the theatre here 9 and 
what part the noncommercial groups might play in helping 
keep it alive? 

TH. I don't know much about the conditions of the theatre in 
FranceI think it has many difficulties to contend with but 



the theatre in England gets government help and has a tax- 
free covenant for many ventures. And the press doesn't in- 
fluence theatre-goers too strongly, whereas here, a couple of 
bad reviews can kill a play before it has a chance to get 
started. It's much easier to produce plays in England than it 
is here. 

As for keeping the theatre alive throughout the country- 
everyone who works in the theatre in any capacity is part of 
a potential audience for commercial productions. Young peo- 
ple can best create and keep growing these new audiences 
for the professional theatre by working with community groups 
wherever they are. 


The Producer in the 
Noncommercial Theatre 


Oliver Smith is one of the younger producers who 
not so long ago was facing many of the same 
problems faced by the average young man new 
to the theatre. He became a producer by a rather 
unusual path by way- of stage designing. He has 
designed fine and highly imaginative stage sets, 
and has been associated with ballet as a co-di- 
rector of Ballet Theatre. 

How do you become a producer? 

O S. First you get the idea of what you want to produce. Then 
you secure the money. If you select a play of quality, you 
will have less trouble finding artists and money. My first 
production was On the Town, in which all the people, from 
writers and composers to actors and dancers, were young and 
not too highly experienced. But it attracted %ioney, because 
the collaborators were talented. 

I don't think you can go to school and learn to be a pro- 
ducer. That Tdnd of executive talent you have to be born with. 

If you want your children to be actively interested in the 
theatre, start them young, while they're still in grade school. 
Have them give puppet shows, and charge ten cents' admission. 
They'll learn box-office and publicity problems that way, not 
to speak of the artistic end of a production. Children are 
fascinated by anything they can make, anything they can 
give identity to. 

So you think producers are born, not made? 

O S. The job takes an inner self-assurance. A false front is no good. 
You have to trust your judgment, right or wrong and then face 
yourself without being devastated when it goes wrong. As a 


Photo by Vandamm 

6. A scene from On the Town, o musical comedy by Adolph Green and 
Betty Comcfen, produced by Paul Feigay and Oliver Smifft, and designed 
by Mr. Smifh. 

producer, you must face people of all types, you must be in- 
terested in human beings. You learn to see your world in terms 
of theatre. Of course, that's dangerous, as sometimes your 
sense of theatre and reality gets mixed up. 

How do you select your plays? 

S, That's a very personal matter. I want to bring new literary 
talent to the theatre. I'm looking for people who have warmth, 
reality, and amusing qualities. 

That must mean that you read many plays. 

S. No, not many. I can tell from four or five pages whether a 
play is for me. Sometimes I find playwrights among novelists, 
sometimes an agent will find a playwright for me. All agents 



have readers who read all plays submitted. And, incidentally, 
producers are extremely generous about getting a play pro- 
duced, even when they can't handle it themselves and it goes 
to another producer. 

To return to that personal matter how did you train yourself 
to tell a good play from a bad one? 

O S. I didn't train myself. I was trained by my personal inclination, 
my choice of reading matter, my academic background. 

Well y what is it that in those first four or five pages makes 
you feel, "This is it, this is for me?" 

O S. The fact that the play gives me goose-pimples. Some producers 
are cold-blooded; they ask themselves, "Will this make me 
money?" A few are talented money-makers, but most of them 
are no more likely to make money than those producers who 
put on only those plays they feel are good. 

I don't stick to a single type of play. I put on Sartre's No 
Exit, even though I disagree with Sartre's philosophy, because 
I thought it was a work of art. I put on Gertrude Berg's 
Me .and Molly because I considered it warm and human. 

How about musicals? 

O S. Musicals are much more expensive to put on than they used 
to be, and you go into them with a lot of care. You have to 
organize them much better than before. Here the author and 
composer work closely together, and the producer sometimes 
works closely with both. George Abbott always works with his 
authors. Creative artists like Rodgers and Hammerstein pro- 
duce their own shows. In general, all the creative artists- 
author, composer, arranger, etc. have authors' contracts, and 
they have to respect one another's talents, as well as the 
ability of the producer, or there would be tremendous con- 

What kind of plays would you suggest for a noncommercial 
theatre to concentrate on classics, new plays, or Broadway 



O S. There's room for everything in the theatre, but noncommercial 
groups have no reason for existence if they don't put on 
worth-while plays. They often want to put on only established 
plays, because they have more difficulty in selling tickets for 
new plays. And, besides, they find it difficult to get original 
plays of value. 

They might solve that problem by sending someone to 
New York to see producers. The latter know of many worth- 
while plays which they themselves cannot put on, and they'd 
be glad to suggest them to the noncommercial theatres. 

Should they try to put on musicals? 

O S. No these require too much organization, too much talent in 
performance. I've seen some that made me shudder. Revues 
would be less excruciating. Variety entertainment comes na- 
turally, and doesn't require such skill in pleasing an audience. 

How do you select actors? 

O S. By calls for auditions, and by agents. More by agents. For 
musicals, I use both methods. 

You hear of young actors and actresses going around from one 
producer's office to another. Does this do them any good? 

O S. Very little. It's very difficult to get to see a producer that way. 
They only waste shoe-leather. 

Then what would you advise a young actor or actress to do? 

O S. Affiliate with an acting school or group which screens out the 
untalented. More young people get in through directors than 
through producers, anyway. If they can't affiliate with an act- 
ing group near by, let them form their own group. The plays 
they put on will attract directors, and some producers, and 
their talents will be noted. They might try acting in summer 
theatres too. As a last resort, to attract attention, some would- 
be actors frequent places where producers are to be found. 
If they have sufficient social charm, they may be noticed 



and remembered. But the odds are against them. It's best to 
try to attract personal attention by doing a good job. 

Suppose the young people live a thousand miles from any 
producer they know of? Should they come to New York 
and try to build an acting group there? 

O S. I wouldn't advise them to come to New York, although many 
do. It's a rat race here, and most kids including some very 
talented ones finally give it up and go home. Those who stick 
it out are obsessed, but not necessarily talented. I'd suggest 
that they organize off-Broadway groups like the Cleveland 
Playhouse and the Karamu Theatre. 

In your dual role as designer and producer, how do you try 
to keep costs down, and yet create appealing and effective 

O S. By using my imagination. The best designs are not necessarily 
expensive. And I've seen expensive ones that were horrible. As 
a producer, I don't want to waste my money on sets that ruin 
the play. 

To be stuffy for a moment, Mr, Smith, whither the theatre? 
Where do you think it's going? Is it dying? 

O S. Not dying. It's going through a period of transition. It can't 
compete with television and the movies by doing the stuff 
that they usually do. If it tried to, it would deserve to die. 
It can live by producing plays that are gripping and vital. 

One final question. What can young people, students, do to 
revitalize the theatre, not only on Broadway, but nationally? 

O S. They can do two things. First, create and build the theatre 
in their own communities. Second, support good theatre, 
amateur and professional both, wherever they find it. As they 
help create audiences who love, understand, and patronize 
good plays and good acting, there'll be no need for the 
theatre to fear the competition of inferior forms of entertain- 



ONCE THE AUTHOR has written his work, and the producer has 
decided to put it on the stage, the director is usually the 
single person most responsible for the success or failure of 
the play. The oddity of this fact is apparent when we consider 
that the director as such is a modern development. Before 
the early part of this century, his duties were usually taken 
by the stage manager, although sometimes in the most per- 
functory way. And plays were successful before directors ex- 

The Commedia dell' Arte of some centuries ago by its very 
nature couldn't have had a director, any more than it could 
have had an author. Once the manager of the troupe had read 
the synopsis of the play and indicated the exits and entrances, 
the actors were on their own. In England during this same 
period, and indeed until the time of Garrick, many of the 
functions of a director would have been superfluous. One of 
the first duties of a director is to see that everyone has an 
understanding of the meaning of the play as a whole, that the 
entire production is keyed to that meaning. But before the 
latter half of the nineteenth century, a play was usually not put 
on as a whole. It was staged to provide parts for a few stars. 
A tragedy gave a dramatic actor an opportunity to tear at the 
emotions of his audience; a comedy gave a comedian a chance 
to mug, to clown, to use his voice in funny ways. 

In England, before Garrick, the other actors did little to 
help the star along. Outside England, the old ruggedly in- 
dividualistic methods persisted even after Garrick. An actor 
wouldn't make his entrance in character. He would enter as 
himself, chat with friends, straighten his costume, and pos- 
sibly clear his throat. Not until he got into the center of the 
stage did he assume his character and begin to "act/* 

Nor was there much worry about the meaning of a play. 
If a production of Shakespeare's The Tempest astounded the 
audience with its scenic effects, it was successful. In fact, very 
often the patched-up conglomeration of Shakespearean dia- 



logue that served as plays could have no meaning as a whole. 
It was enough that from moment to moment the actor could 
stun his audience with the power of his outburst, with the 
vividness of his rendition of the author's language. 

In the modern theatre, however, everything in the play 
must contribute to a unified effect. The scenery must match the 
style of acting; the actors must work together, not merely com- 
pete as individuals for the attention of the audience. 

The director must therefore have a definite conception of the 
play before he begins to work with the actors. He must make up 
his mind beforehand what sort of effect the play is intended to 
produce, and by what methods he will obtain this effect. He 
does not have to plan every inflection of the voice, every 
gesture of the little finger of every actor, although some di- 
rectors do come close to doing this. But usually he does plan 
exits and entrances, pieces of stage business, and the general 
movement of his characters. 

Even in this, however, not all directors work the same way. 
Some find that the moment they begin actual rehearsals, much 
or all of their planning must be discarded, and they must start 
all over again. Others find that their plans are highly useful, 
although they need to be changed in some details. 

Those who plan in advance have a certain advantage. Both 
commercial and noncommercial productions are short on re- 
hearsal time, and things are speeded up considerably if there is 
less groping around. The scenery can be designed only if the 
director knows what he intends to do, and once it is selected 
the director's freedom to change his mind about many details 
of the staging is limited. 

Directors, nowadays, begin with a reading of the play. 
Script in hand, the actors sit around and go through their parts, 
trying to gain an understanding of the characters, of how the 
different roles, are to be played. It is better for each actor to 
have the script as a whole rather than to depend on "sides," 
which contain only the lines of individual actors, plus cues, and 
which necessarily center each actor's performance on himself. 

After four or five readings, or possibly sooner, if the play 
offers great difficulty, the director will discuss and analyze the 
characters, and if actors have conflicting ideas about how dif- 
ferent parts are to be played, he will help straighten them out. 
Some directors simply tell the actors what they consider the 


Courtesy of ANT A. Photo by Vic Shijreen 

7. Helen Hayes and the cast reading Mrs. McThing, by Mary Chase. 
Among those present are Brandon cfe Wilde, Jules Munshin f director Joseph 
Buloff, and producer Robert Whitehead. 

correct way; others start a discussion which will help the cast 
thrash things out. At any rate, although many questions remain 
unsettled, after a day or two the actors leave their seats and, 
still reading from scripts, begin to walk through the play as the 
director blocks out their movements. 

There is no attempt, at this stage, to memorize lines. With a 
new play such an attempt would be futile anyway, as there 
will almost certainly be considerable changes in the rewriting. 
It is difficult enough for the actors to learn how to express the 
feelings of the characters and how to make the movements 
required of them seem natural. There is no scenery, no stage 
set. But the set has been, or is being, designed, and the actors 
must move in relation to where the different pieces of scenery 
and furniture will be. Hence, props are set out, while the posi- 



tions of walls, fountains, and so on are noted by chalk marks, or 
by tape lines. The actors concentrate on the first act until they 
can run through it fairly well. Then they go on to the second 
act, and so on. 

Once past the first readings, there is considerable confusion 
and indecision. If the director has planned everything in ad- 
vance, he finds that some of his plans must be changed. The 
actors don't like some of the things they are asked to do, and 
they have their own suggestions. There are heated arguments 
among the various actors fighting jealously to preserve the 
importance of their own parts. Questions that have supposedly 
been solved arise all over again. It turns out that an actor who 
had agreed with the director as to the meaning of his own part 
understood the terms of agreement differently. Until the very 
end of rehearsals, and sometimes until the very end of the play's 
run, there may be certain roles that are not interpreted to die 
director's satisfaction. 

Directors have different approaches to the solution of 
these problems. Some are autocrats; they tell the actors what to 
do, and consider their own decisions final. If the actor doesn't 
get the point, they pass from telling to showing, and have the 
actor imitate them. Others show nothing. They do their best to 
explain, to get the actor into the mood of the character, to 
make him grasp the motive behind the things he must do, and 
then to have him find out for himself how best to express the 
mood and motive. 

At the halfway point in rehearsals, tempers are likely to be 
frayed. Not every actor is doing a good job, and the director's 
discussions are likely to sound to some of the cast like unfair 
criticism. If by this time the actor doesn't see the characters 
pretty much as author and director see them, there is trouble in 
store for everyone. 

A great deal depends on the nature of the cast. An expe- 
rienced and talented professional actor often needs no more 
than a slight hint of the director's meaning. A noviceand most 
of the amateurs in noncommercial productions are novices or 
little more will need to have things explained thoroughly 
and then to be shown in the bargain. Some actors learn quickly 
at first, but soon stop improving in their interpretations. Others 
are slow to start with, but keep forging ahead. Some can 



portray a wide variety of roles, others have difficulty in adapt- 
ing themselves to characters that are new to them. 

Whatever their problems, it is up to the director to help 
them arrive at the proper solutions. As work goes on, he may 
find it necessary to call special rehearsal sessions for a single 
actor, or for groups of two or three, instead of for the cast as a 
whole. In this way he can concentrate on the particular scenes 
that need improvement without forcing the rest of the cast to 
stand around waiting idly. At the same time, he avoids too 
greatly embarrassing the actors who are not getting along well 
in their parts. 

But the direction of the actors is only a part of the director's 
duties. He will consult, argue, and sometimes regrettably fly into 
a rage with producer, author, scene designer, costume designer, 
and any other member of the production whose work affects 
what he is trying to do on the stage. He must help decide ques- 
tions of make-up and lighting, and revision of the script, as well 
as acting. He must see that everything contributes to the unified 
meaning of the play, 

Sometimes a director will assume one or more of the other 
functions in a play. He may not only direct, but take care of 
production as well. Or, on occasion, he will direct and also have 

8. Newell Tarrant, the direc- 
tor of the Erie Playhouse, a 
community theatre, explain* 
a piece of business to a cast 
in rehearsal. 

Courtesy of Erie Playhouse. Photo by Bryce Currie 


a leading role as an actor. In relatively rare cases he will 
produce, direct, and act in the same play. 

Now, when he does this, he faces special problems. For one 
thing, he stands a good chance of breaking down from over- 
work. But even more dangerous is the possibility that his views 
will become too narrow, too limited, too personal. The average 
director may disagree with his leading man about how a role 
should be played. In that case, the question is thrashed out 
between them and this verbal thrashing gives each a chance to 
learn from the other. But when director and leading actor are 
the same person, the whole struggle may take place in that 
person's single headand that sort of struggle is too often a 
sham battle. 

In a case of this kind, what does the director do? We asked 
Jose Ferrer, who at any moment is likely to be acting in one play 
which he has produced and directed, while producing another 
and directing still a third. Mr. Ferrer's reply was: "Any con- 
scientious director welcomes suggestions from the actors, the 
playwright, and others who are working with him, and accords 
them the greatest consideration. In a case like The Shrike, in 
which I double as an actor and a director, such co-operation is 
absolutely essential, especially from the viewpoint of those who 
can watch from out front while I myself am on stage. With 
The Shrike, we were particularly fortunate in that our play- 
wright, Joseph Kramm, is also a director and worked with 
me closely." 

Mr. Ferrer also lays great emphasis on audience reaction. 
It is almost unheard of on Broadway to have a "run-through" 
before an audience a week after a play has started rehearsal. 
Nevertheless, here Mr. Ferrer does the unheard-of. Why? 

"Audiences/' he pointed out, "are, of course, the final judge 
of any director's work, but they can also be collaborators. Their 
reactions at "run-throughs' and dress rehearsals quickly indicate 
weaknesses in a play and its direction which can be corrected 
at further rehearsals and re-tested at additional Invitation 
dress rehearsals.' Important to any director of actor, these pre- 
liminary audience reactions are invaluable to the man who is 
doing both jobs at once." 

Invaluable in another way are the hints you can get from 
Shaw, who read his own plays marvelously, and directed some 
of them. Shaw believed in working out the stage business be- 



Photo by Vandctmm 

9. Jose Ferrer as /ago restraining Doug/as Wafson while Paul Robeson 
Shakespeare's Othello. 

forehand, as he tells in his booklet, The Art of Rehearsal, but 
beyond that, many of his suggestions show an uncommon sort 
of common sense. They are especially important for noncom- 
mercial groups, 

Don't criticize. Instead, explain. If a thing is wrong, and 
you don't know how to set it right, keep quiet. If you can't help 
the actors, leave them alone. Don't confuse and worry them by 
telling them that something is wrong and that you cant put 
your finger on it. 

Don't try to cram too much into an actor at a single re- 
hearsal. If he learns two or three important points at a session, 
he is doing fine. Don't bring up anything that doesn't really 
matter. Forget about trifles, 


JL ttJE JL> 1 tt JtL <J T U Jtt 

Don't get angry and lose your temper or your patience, 
don't cry to heaven that the actors are a pack of fools for not 
understanding what you are trying to tell them. TheyH re- 
sent it, and do even worse. Don't be annoyed because you have 
to repeat the same thing several times. You don't learn every- 
thing the first time either, and some things you never learn. 

If a scene isn't going right, don't keep repeating it and 
getting the actors in the habit of doing it wrong. Cut it short, 
and start again when everybody can come to it with a new 

Shaw believed that after the first rehearsals were out of the 
way, the actors should be permitted to run through their scenes 
without comment or interruption from the direcor until the 
end of the act. The act must be regarded as a whole, and not 
chopped up, by interruptions, into little pieces. And he warned 
against allowing the actors to take their tone and speed from 
one another, instead of from what the author had written. One 
wrong interpretation can infect an entire cast. 

After the first week or so, the actors will begin to memorize 
their lines. Some will have no trouble. Words, gestures, inflec- 
tions, all will have been learned together as the meaning of the 
parts became apparent. Others will find a great deal of dif- 
ficulty in retaining the words, and in their desperation will 
seem to forget everything else. The best thing for the director to 
do is not to interfere and not to lose patience. After a time, the 
words will begin to come without trouble, and then the director 
can devote his time to perfecting the characterizations, to elim- 
inating all the smaller flaws in the performance. 

However, in some cases actors have too little trouble with 
words. That is, they tend to substitute their own for those of the 
author. Sometimes they do so in the belief that they are making 
improvements; at other times, their alterations of the text will 
be simply due to lapse of memory. Whatever the cause, the 
director must not permit unauthorized changes. Actors who 
like to improvise dialogue should be encouraged to write their 
own plays. 

The director will make hundreds and perhaps thousands 
of notes. He will enter in his prompt-book dozens of details 
about errors to watch out for, possible danger spots, lighting 
cues, and so on. This incessant attention to detail is hard work, 
and makes it more difficult for the director to act as the part- 



time Pollyanna of the production and that too is part of his job, 
for there will be numerous occasions when the author is dis- 
gusted with his own script, the producer with the people he 
has hired, and the actors with their roles. The director must 
keep up morale, aided to some extent by the cheerful releases 
of tie press agent, 

In his concern with details and such a concern is inevi- 
table if the production is to avoid the dozens of awkward spots 
that will sometimes crop up the director must never forget 
his main task: the staging of the play as a whole. The play 
must make sense to the audience. The pace, the method of 
speaking the lines, the nature of the scenery, everything must 
conform to the play's central meaning. If the director slips up in 
a detail or two, he will be able to correct his mistakes easily 
enough later. But if he fails in his main approach to the play, 
he fails in everything. 

Sometimes the play is nearing the end of rehearsals when 
it becomes evident that things are not going right. The pro- 
ducer and the director discover at this late stage that they have 
completely different ideas of the play. The director learns to 
his amazement that all the actors have been shrugging off his 
interpretation of the characters and sticking to their own. 
The star proves incapable of fitting in with the other actors. 
The sets turn out to be too brilliant or too gloomy. Glaring 
weaknesses suddenly become apparent in the script. 

Why, you may ask, didn't these things hit everyone in the 
eye in the first place? Why did all these experienced men and 
women of the theatre require so much work and so much 
time to discover the obvious? 

Well, nothing was obvious in the first place, except the 
general nature of the script. All the weaknesses that were in- 
herent in the production have been excused on the ground 
that you can't expect things to be done right at first. It has been 
assumed that hard work and the passing of time would elimi- 
nate absurdities in the plotting, would give the actors a better 
idea of the characters, would make for better teamwork. Every- 
body's imagination has been working overtime, anticipating 
improvements and glossing over inconsistencies. 

And, in many cases, this assumption that everything would 
turn out all right is largely justified. When it is not then there 
are explosions, resignations, dismissals (subject to Equity rules), 



a hasty search for a co-author or "play doctor/' the bringing in of 
a new director, new actors. 

If the director survives this stage, if he is not forced to 
start hurried rehearsals with a completely revised and practi- 
cally new script, or with new leading actors, he devotes his time 
to smoothing out all the rough spots of the production and 
preparing for the dress rehearsal. In most cases the actors will 
have started becoming accustomed to their costumes and to 
the settings long before this, especially if the costumes are 
awkward and unfamiliar, or if the action requires tricky en- 
trances or exits. But the dress rehearsal is more than a re- 
hearsal with costumes and setting. It is a run-through of an 
actual performance, with only the audience missing. 

A commercial dress rehearsal is a solemn and expensive 
affair. It requires the use of a theatre instead of a rehearsal 
room, and the hiring of a full stage crew. Producer, director, 
author, scene designer, all sit in the orchestra with their sec- 
retaries and notebooks, making their last-minute suggestions 
for change or improvement. All the details of acting, lighting, 
dialogue and stage management are subjected to their critical 
inspection. The action does not stop. An actor may slip up on 
his lines, a spotlight may pick out the wrong person on the 
stage. Whatever the mishap, it is noted while the show goes 
grimly on. 

Between acts, the director will visit the actors and try to 
correct any alarming tendencies he sees. In a noncommercial 
play, especially, there is a tendency to start off full of energy 
and then to let down as the performance goes on, since the 
discipline which the professional has learned in a hard school 
is lacking. Nothing could be more fatal to a play, for the 
audience's attention is keenest at the beginning, and needs 
more and more stimulation from one act to the next. The di- 
rector must be on the alert for this, and keep the pace and 
the vitality of the players up to the proper level. 

The dress rehearsal almost never runs off smoothly. There is 
too much tension, and because this is the first complete run- 
through under conditions simulating those of actual perform- 
ance, everyone is in a sense playing his role for the first 
time. Hence it is taken for granted that there will be a fair num- 
ber of minor flaws. But if something seriously wrong appears, 
the opening may have to be postponed. 



In a commercial production, the first opening may itself be 
little more than a dress rehearsal It may take place in New 
Haven or Philadelphia, or some other traditional tryout city, 
to test the reactions of audiences and critics. And a short run in 
these towns may be followed once more by revisions and re- 
hearsals, until all concerned seem on the verge of nervous 
breakdowns, and the producer tears his hair at the thought of 
all the money this is costing, money that may never by repaid. 

In some ways, commercial play production resembles those 
children's games in which, at any moment, no matter how far 
along the action has gone, an unfavorable spin of the arrow 
may set everything back halfway or even all the way to the 
beginning. The author may have to look for a new producer, the 
producer for a new director, the director for new actors. 

If these perils have been escaped, if dress rehearsal and 
tryout have been survived, if a fairly suitable theatre can be 
hired, the play finally opens before a first-night audience of 
critics, amateur and professional. Some of those present are 
there to see the play. Others want the honor of being at a first 
night, of being a "celebrity" among other celebrities. 

The reaction of the first-night audience helps determine the 
success or failure of the play. Its favor or disapproval affects 
critics; its word-of -mouth reports lure many playgoers into the 
theatre or keep them away. But it is usually a completely 
atypical audience. And it is almost never the audience for which 
the play was written. Everyone connected with the play knows 
this, and is under greater strain because of it. 

Once the play has opened, the director's work is done. From 
now on it is the stage manager who sees to it that everything 
goes on well, while the director wonders what ever led him to 
direct. His work is difficult, wearing, and nerve- wracking. And 
he is a favorite target of critics, who often find even more 
serious mistakes in his direction than in the author's script. 

None .the less, directing has its rewards, both artistic and 
financial, especially if the play is successful. And there is not 
the deadening effect from which the actor suffers, for instance, 
when he is lucky enough to be in a hit and must repeat the 
same role night after night for months. 

By contrast, the director often feels lucky until it is time 
for him to start directing another play. 


How to Direct Comedy and Melodrama 


As author, director, and producer, George Abbott 
has long played an Important part on the Broad- 
way stage. He has put on a wide variety of pro- 
ductions, from farces like Three Men On a Horse 
and melodramas like Broadway (of which he was 
co-author) to musical comedies like A Tree Grows 
in Brooklyn (where again he was co-author). To a 
great number of theatre-goers his name has be- 
come synonymous with the sMll and smoothness 
of staging that only our professional theatre and 
by no means all of that is able to supply. 

Anything that kills the interest of the audience 
is his enemy. But few of the people who enjoy 
his shows realize how he has managed to produce 
their enjoyment. To most theatre-goers, a George 
Abbott show is one that is fast and swiftly paced 
all the way through. 

Is the action really so fast? Or is that just an illusion that you 

G A, Like so many other things in the theatre, it's an illusion. It's 
caused by a change of pace in the writing and direction. If 
you just go fast, you create a jumble of sheer noise. Sometimes 
the illusion of speed is created by cutting the script, so that the 
scene is trimmed to dimensions that make it seem faster. You 
make use of contrast, just as a symphony orchestra will play a 
slow passage and then a fast passage for dramatic effect. If 
you keep your audience's interest, it will think that the action 
on the stage is taking place rapidly, although actually the 
action may be very slow. 

Take Three Men On a Horse, for instance. In the scene 
where the gambler played by Sam Levene is excitedly begging 
Irwin to give him the name of a winning horse, nothing much 
happens for a time. He simply keeps demanding the name of a 
horse. But the audience is kept interested and amused and 
then, suddenly, a a man runs in to announce the winner of a 



10. Teddy Hart, William Lynn, 
Shirley Booth f Horace Mc- 
Mahon and Sam Levene In a 
scene from Three Men on a 
Horse, wnffen by Cecil Holm 
and George Abbott, and d/- 
reded by Mr. Abbott. 

Courtesy of George Abbott. Photo by Vandamm 

race that's important to the characters. That happens fast, 
there's a quick laugh, and the audience gets the impression 
that the entire scene has taken place at a rapid clip. Actually, 
it hasn't. 

Do you believe in plotting every detail of a production before- 
hand, or do you like to improvise as you go along? 

G A. I improvise as I go along. I'm working with actors, not autom- 
atons. As they begin to talk and act, I get a picture of what 
I want to do. When I'm working in a dual capacity, as writer 
and director, I may very often throw aside my own script 
directions. The fact and my imagination don't always jibe, 
and I don't always follow my own visualizations. 

Suppose, Mr. Abbott, that you are directing someone else's 

G A. The same thing can happen. I don't let the stage directions 
become a straitjacket. If they cramp the play, out they go. 



Do you feel that yon have had enough experience to know 
what will please an audience, or do you find that tastes 
change, so that you still have to depend on tryouts? 

GA. Out-of-town tryouts help. Certain moods in die public mind 
will not accept certain types of plays. Many present-day au- 
diences avoid serious plays, and go to see nonsensical shows. 
Some productions that wouldn't have lasted more than a week 
a few years ago are now great hits. 

How, in reading a jarce, can you tell whether it will be funny 
on stage or just silly? 

GA. If a farce is to be any good, it has to have character and 
honesty. When you get a script with just an exaggerated situ- 
ation, you know it will be silly. In certain kinds of high comedy, 
even in the highest comedy of a man like Shaw, there's usually 
an emotional reaction. It has to be there for good comedy. 

Do you think that farces are more difficult to stage than 
other plays? 

G A. They're difficultbut no more than other kinds of plays. To 
me, the hardest thing to do would be fantasy. I try to create 
reality on stage, and there I'm on sure ground. 

The critics write long essays on the difference between farce 
and comedy, and on humor in general. Do you find that 
their ideas are of any great help to a director or producer? 

GA. They can't give you definite advice on how to put on your 
play, or they'd be producers instead of critics. But all thoughts 
on the theatre contribute to our general knowledge and aware- 
ness, and the theatre has progressed in many ways through 
the critics. They're right on an average, although they're prej- 
udiced in some details. And producers pay attention to them, 
before or after putting on a show. If the criticism comes too 
late to affect one show, it will affect the next. 

Critics have had a part to play, for instance, in the new 
importance of musicals. Musicals, right now, are the most pro- 
gressive and vital form of the living theatre. They're making the 



most changes, doing the most experimenting. And the critics 

have had a hand in encouraging them. 

Arent there certain plays, Mr. Abbot, where success is more a 
matter of writing and direction than of acting ability? 

G A. I think that, with a few exceptions, if a play is a good solid 
play, it will go with almost any capable cast. We sometimes 
change actors frantically in tryouts. But I feel that when that 
happens, it's generally the play that isn't right, and it's the 
script that needs changing more than the actors. 

Sometimes appearance is even more important than ability. 
An actress who plays a beauty-contest winner must look the 
part. Each producer has his own bent as far as casting goes. I 
happen to like to experiment with new people, partly because 
I trust my own judgment, and partly because I remember 
when I was looking for a job myself. 

What, in general, are the pitfalls that youngsters should avoid 
in acting and staging? 

G A. The main pitfall is phoniness. I'd say, try not to pose, do what 
you really think the character would do. Don't adopt someone 
else's mannerisms. Don't try to do too much. You have to grow 
and learn. 

I think that no talent goes undiscovered too long. Home- 
town clippings don't help with me, or with most directors or 
producers. But if actors can find a producer who'll be im- 
pressed by their experience, by all means let them use their 
clippings. Personally, I see actors when I cast a show, and 
I judge by the results of their experience, not by the amount 
of it. 

If an actor has dramatic instinct, taste will help him, and 
will warn him to avoid bad acting styles. I remember, when 
I was a beginner, getting lessons in ham acting from an old- 
time stock actor. I just wouldn't learn it. I couldn't have ex- 
plained why, I didn't have any theoretical reasons for it, but 
I knew that the style he was trying to teach me was wrong. 

The important thing for an actor is to act. He should go into 
the little theatres, do anything that gets him on the stage. It's 
only then that he has a chance to gpt anywhere. 


The Kind of Theatre We Have 


One of the original directors of the famous Group 
Theatre, and later its sole director, Harold Clurman 
has worked and written about the theatre from 1924 
on. For the Group Theatre he directed such famous 
plays as Awake and Sing and Golden Boy. In recent 
years he has directed among others The Member 
of the Wedding and The Time of the Cuckoo. 
Almost from the beginning of his career he has 
been writing articles and reviews which have 
greatly influenced people of the theater, and he 
is the author of The Fervent Years, the story of 
the Group Theater. 

What would you say are the characteristics of the American 
theatre? What, for example, about realism and naturalism 
on our stage? 

H C. First of all, from the time O'Neill came on the scene, there has 
been much more emphasis on naturalism and realism with us 
than in the English theatre. The English have a tendency to 
revert back to the models of classic theatre, they tend to fall 
back on rhetoric and elocution. In this respect, the French are 
like the English. They too rely on beautiful elocution, on witty 
speech and clever writing. 

Since about 1915, our own theatre has more and more de- 
veloped in the direction of realism, of mirroring actuality. 
This tendency has been urged along to a great extent by the 
influence of the movies, which actually photograph reality. In 
the old days, when we wanted a fat man on stage, we made 
one, padding the actor's clothes and puffing out his cheeks. 
In the movies, when they want a fat man, they cast one, and 
nowadays we have a tendency to do the same thing in the 
theatre. This has its bad aspects as well as good. It requires 
fine art to project the illusion of a fat man when the actor him- 
self is thin, and this art can be lost. 

Incidentally, "realism" and "naturalism" are very often used 
as synonyms. There's a difference. Sound realism tries to 



11. D/no D/luco, Jose* Perez, 
oncf Shirley Booth in a scene 
from The Time of the Cuckoo, 
written by Arthur Laurent* 
and directed by Harold C/ur- 

Courtesy of Robert Wkitehead Productions. Photo by Vandamm 

capture the inner, psychological reality, to create characters 
whose behavior we recognize as true to life. Naturalism tries to 
recreate just the outward image of reality. You can get natural- 
ism in a museum of wax dummies, where every character looks 
lifelike and has not a trace of flesh and blood about him. 

The English have more naturalism, in a way, offstage than 
on. That is, their actors always look like actors, whereas ours 
might be taken for longshoremen, truck drivers, businessmen. 
The good aspect of our way is that it makes our theatre 
more expressive of the times we live in, it brings us closer to 
reality when the actors go on stage. 

We no longer have so much of the Belasco type of natural- 



ism in our scenery. In its day realism brought something vital 
in our acting. Now, though, there are people who are rebelling, 
who would like more of theatrical artificiality back. 

How about pace, Mr. Clurman? Do you think that high speed 
is part of our American theatre tradition? 

HC. Yes, American plays are paced much faster than English or 
French. The way plays are staged aad cut makes them move 
more rapidly. In France, as in England, the audiences don't 
mind long conversations. Here audiences are bored with talk 
unless there's violent stage action to go along with it. 

We exaggerate the need for speed. It's as if the only things 
we understand are nervously paced. This is a fault, because 
often we miss the nuances, the fine artistic points. 

You can't dissociate the subject matter from the tempo. 
The feeling of a play, the inner rhythm, should set the pace. 
Desire Under the Elms has a tempo suited to its feeling. To 
speed it up would destroy it. All this business of speed is 
silly. Anyone can make a play go fast by simply telling the 
actors to talk fast, move fast. 

On the question of the feeling of different plays, Mr. Clurman: 
Do you think that the style of our theatre can be sharply 
separated from the plays it deals with? 

HC. No, they go very much together. This is so much the case 
that when we do Shakespeare, whose approach to life was so 
different from our own, we're at a loss as to how to tackle him, 
and we fall back on English-inspired productions. Our Amer- 
ican actors aren't trained to do Shakespeare, they haven't the 
English traditions, social, national, or dramatic. As a result, 
they feel uncomfortable and try to imitate the English style. 

Would you say then that the American theatre has a single 
distinctive style of its own or does it have many styles? 

H C. It doesn't have enough different styles, it lacks variety. We 
have a musical-comedy style, and a non-musical style. All our 
styles tend to come back to one, to realism. The minute you get 
away from a straight story, our audiences tend to become 



bewildered. Wilder's Skin of Our Teeth, for instance, which 
had a fantastic quality, threw them. In Death of a Salesman, 
however, both the dream and life sequences were presented in 
a purely literal, realistic way, and the audiences had no dif- 
ficulty in following the transitions. 

There are many more styles in the theatre than you can see 
in a Broadway season. We don't often see eighteenth-century 
comedies like those of Congreve because the style is too arti- 
ficial for us. We can't do Strindberg's Spook Sonata because 
that has to be done in an expressionist way, and expressionism 
has had little influence on our stage. It was never very strong 
here. It made possible some fantastic scenes, but created no 
deep impression. Pirandello was likewise never too successful 
here, because he can't be played realistically either. And yet, all 
these styles should be attempted. They are all part of our 
dramatic culture. 

We don't even try to experiment with new styles. I'm not 
committing myself for Cocteau, but he does represent a modern 
style, and it's valid to do that type of play. But we don't do it 
because we want everything to be uniform. That isn't a sign of 
health in either the theatre or the audience. 

Are there any single plays whose style and direction have 
greatly influenced the American stage? 

H C. Yes. Broadway and The Front Page both made a great impres- 
sion in the 'twenties. Their hard-hitting speed and realism had 
great influence. Recently, The Member of the Wedding has 
made people realize that a play needn't have speed if it has 
mood and character. 

Do you think our theatre is as near dying as some people 
feel, Mr. Clurman? Or does it seem to you to have enough 
vigor to stay alive for a while? 

HC. It is vigorous in so far as we have a number of playwrights 
who are writing serious plays. Clifford Odets, Tennesee Wil- 
liams, Arthur Miller, Lillian Hellman, William Inge, and Arthur 
Laurents as a group represent an attempt to mirror American 
life. In this sense we're more vigorous than England, which 
since Shaw's death has only Christopher Fry. The French have 



produced no playwrights who interest us except Giraudoux, 
Sartre, and Anouilh. And the latter isn't liked here. His basic 
feeling is a bitter one, and both his American-produced plays 
were failures. 

But we don't have a permanent company, or a national 
theatre, or a theatre devoted to classics. There is less variety in 
the American theatre, there is less production in general. France 
has twice as many theatres as we do, always operating, England 
and Germany have very important theatres in the provinces. 
Our road is weak and almost completely dependent on Broad- 

Another weakness of ours is that our actors don't get enough 
of a chance to play in the theatre. They have to get jobs in the 
movies, radio, and television, so that very few have a chance 
to develop as interestingly as actors should. 

We hear a great many complaints, Mr. Clurman, that few 
good plays are being written. What do you think stops them 
from being written? Is it lack of talent, fear of censorship? 

HC. It isn't true that no good plays are being written. Several 
good plays are produced each season. What many people really 
complain about is that not enough plays are sure to make 
money. We exhaust our playwrights. We don't give them the 
time or opportunity to grow. We insist that all plays be 
successes or masterpieces. 

Then, we don't supplement new plays by old plays. Mu- 
seums are full of "old" art, orchestras play Mozart symphonies 
as well as the newest compositions. We enjoy and understand 
them more with each experience. Plays are also works of art that 
should be produced again and again. European theatres insist 
on old plays. In England, John Gielgud has done only one or 
two new plays in ten years, and can depend successfully on 
putting on old ones. 

Our playwrights work under still another handicap. There's 
a kind of censorship that affects them not only politically, but 
with regard to style, social standards as shown in the moral 
behavior of the characters, method of dramatic approach. Be- 
cause it was different, The Member of the Wedding had dif- 
ficulty in finding first a producer and then a theatre. Now 


JM JUT A V^ 1*1, -f> f> JL JL JO. JCf 

1 JK 

12. Brandon de W/Jde, Ethel 
Wafers, and Jyffe Harm in 
a scene from A Member of the 
Wedding, written by Carson 
AicCi/llers and directed by 
Harold C/t/rman. 

Courtesy of Robert Whitehead Productions. Photo by Alfredo Valente 

producers ask for another play that will be sure-fire like 

Do you feel that just as Broadway producers type-cast actors, 
they also tend to choose directors according to type? 

HC. Unfortunately, they do. Producers judge a director on the 
basis of the plays that he has already done, and they want him 
to work in a standard way. After Awake and Sing I was asked to 
do only plays with a New York setting. I had a hard time 



escaping. I'd like to do any form of play a poetic play, a 
musical comedy, anything I thought was good. 

How do you think your own methods of direction differ from 
those of other directors in the American theatre, Mr. 

H C. It's hard for me to say. I always try to direct according to the 
content of the play. Therefore the direction must have variety. 
Some directors have a tendency to do everything the same way, 
whether they're doing a serious drama or musical comedy. 

What about your own personal experience, Mr. Clurman? Do 
you think your being an actor was an advantage? 

H C. It's useful to be an actor, but it isn't essential. What is essential 
is to live backstage. There's no such thing as becoming just a 
director. You have to go through activity in the theatre. You 
have to experience some aspect of theatre life such as stage 
managing, designing, producing, etc. I have taught directors 
through work in the Group. The Group, incidentally, immersed 
its members in backstage life, and with all its weaknesses was 
one of the greatest influences on the American theatre. It had 
an enormous effect, and developed outstanding talent of many 

To anyone who wants to become a director, I'd say that the 
best way is to get a job in the theatre and watch directors at 
work. See a play not once, for enjoyment, but many times, to 
study it. Work in a community, get small parts as an actor, and 
read and think over everything that's been written on the 


How to Cast a Play 


In both England and the United States, Margaret 
Webster has directed plays of the great dramatists 
of the English stage, from Shakespeare's Hamlet, 
Othello, The Tempest, and Richard II, to Shaw's 
Saint Joan. She has also directed modern plays, 
and has staged such operas for the Metropolitan 
Opera Company as Verdfs Don Carlo and Aida. 
A fine actress herself, she is always interested in 
discovering talent that is still unrecognized. When 
we interviewed her, she had just finished audi- 
tioning several actors, not for any specific play, 
but for the purpose of discovering people she might 
cast in later productions. 

Miss Webster, how does one become a director? 

MW. (throwing up her hands): I could speak for hours about 
that and you want a one-minute answer! 

Well, you become a director by learning to do everything. 
You should have some acting experience. You needn't be a great 
actor, but you must know what an actor has to do. You must 
know how to tackle all problems, from high finance and diplo- 
macy to the proverbial "sweeping the stage." You must be pre- 
pared to do anything and everything in the theatre. Stage 
managing, prompting, everything. 

Once you consider yourself a director, you have to convince 
a producer that you are one. That isn't so easy. There is no 
short cut to getting a job. Many directors graduate from the 
stage management field, and from writing their own plays or 
producing them. 

Does a director attempt all types of plays, or stick to one form? 

M W. That depends on the individual. Most directors handle better 
those plays for which they not only have sympathy, but with 
whose background material they have some familiarity and 



Courtesy of New York City Theatre Company* Photo by Hahman 

13. Maurice Evans (front), Marsha Hunt (center rear), and mem- 
bers of the supporting cast In a scene from George Bernard 
Shaw's The Devil's Disciple, in production directed by Margaret 

personal experience. Their imagination is more active with such 
plays. Other directors take a less subjective attitude, they 
tackle anything that comes their way. 

How can young people put on Shakespeare, Shaw, and Ibsen 
so that the plays seem to be alive, and not museum pieces? 

M W. By making the plays come alive for themselves first. By 
studying not only the plays, but the period in which they were 
written, the life of the people. By treating the characters as 
human beings. 

When you direct a play, and plan the action, do you know just 
how the stage will be set? 



M W. In almost every detail. I plan the action very carefully be- 
forehand. It is absolutely essential for the director to work 
very closely with the designer from the beginning. 

How do you select actors? By reputation, or by experience? 

M W. All the people concerned in the play author, producer, di- 
rector, and so on make up a list of actors. Generally, casting 
agents are consulted. Usually we have a good idea of whom 
we want in the leading roles. Sometimes we get recommenda- 
tions, or we know the personal quality of the actor. We attend 
off -Broadway performances to look for actors. The Theatre 
Guild has a casting director and several scouts. But generally 
a number of auditions and/or interviews are held for the 
smaller parts. In most cases, a director will not audition actors 
except for a specific play. In this respect, my auditions of a 
few moments ago were exceptions to the rule, for they were in 
response to letters or recommendations I had received and 
had no special purpose. 

Acting is a heartbreaking profession, and there is not nearly 
enough employment. In fact, anyone who wants to go into the 
professional theatre in any capacity had better think twice 
about it. I believe that no brilliant talent really gets blocked. 
But I also believe that a great deal of run-of-the-mill talent is 
completely lost in the shuffle. 

How can you tell talent in an actor? 

M W. When you go to the theatre, how do you explain why you 
like a performance? There's no easy way to tell. After a while, 
with experience, you develop a sixth sense about acting, and you 
can judge quickly whether an actor has the personal quality 
necessary for a part and is also able to project it to an audience. 
The latter qualification is harder to judge under the quite 
different and special conditions of a reading or audition. 

Can you tell much from the way an actor reads a script? 

M W. Sometimes. But often a man or woman who reads well can't 
go much further than this first impression, and at times a bad 
reader turns out to be the more sensitive. 



Miss Webster, do you think that British young people are more 
actively interested in the living theatre than American 

M W. As audiences, yes. As participants, no. 

To get back to that high finance that a director must know 
about. Are directors well paid? And is it on a fee or a 
royalty basis? 

MW. Pay varies, depending on the individual, and a director is 
usually paid both a fee and a royalty. But don't get illusions 
about directing being a road to riches. The directing field is 
not as crowded as the acting field, but it is unusual for a 
young director to get a Broadway assignment. 

If Broadway assignments are hard to get, do you think that 
more directors should go out of town and help high-school 
and college theatres put on plays? 

M W. I myself used to direct amateur and school or college groups. 
That is one way in which a person with capacity can learn a 
great deal, and there is a definite value in the exchange of 
experience between professionals and non-professionals. 

But once a director has attained experience, he wants to 
direct and get the best result in terms of standard. And you 
see the highest standards, necessarily, with professional actors, 
who have spent their lives learning their craft. 

From the amateur's point of view, isn't it a good idea to have 
at least one professional on the staff? 

MW. Yes, the professional has breadth of knowledge, he is ac- 
customed to Higher standards. When no one knows anything 
and sometimes that's the case in the amateur theatre no one 
learns anything. Amateurs should have help from someone 
who has had experience in the theatre, whether as actor or 
director, from someone who has objective judgement. High- 
school students, for instance, may be told by their friends and 
relatives that they're wonderful actors, that they should be on 
Broadway, and so on. These opinions may be slightly biased. 



Before getting delusions of grandeur, the students, for their 
own good, had better get some objective criticism from an 
honest professional. 

Community theatres face many dangers. One of the first is 
that they're not clear what they want. What are their aims 
to develop new writing talent, or acting talent? To make a 
contribution to society? Or simply to have fun? If the first, 
then they should concentrate on new plays. If the second, 
then they'll work mostly with well-established plays. It's easier 
to give good performances in such plays. It isn't easy for an 
amateur to create a new role in an untested play. The third 
may lead to professionalism in the end, the fourth is an end 
in itself. 

Another danger facing community theatres is that they 
sometimes tend to think that they are perfect, that the com- 
mercial theatre has nothing to offer. 

Can the commercial theatre do anything to correct this de- 
lusion? Can it help young theatre people in general? 

MW. It can, by getting good productions to their communities. 
That isn't easy. The expense and difficulty of taking the 
theatre off the beaten track of the biggest cities make touring 
a tremendous risk. The theatre has to evolve new methods of 
getting back to the road. But this is also a two-way process. 
The public has to demand good plays, and be willing to 
support them by securing advance subscriptions, including 
low-cost student subscriptions. 

There are endless problems involved. And you can take 
everything I've said as no more than an indication of their 
nature. To explore any aspect of the subject thoroughly, I 
would have to pre-empt your entire book. 



Is THE SCENE DESIGNER necessary in the theatre? 

There are people who think he isn't. Some individuals claim 
that more plays have been hurt by scenery than have been 
helped by it. They point to the ancient Greek theatre, which 
started with only an altar of Dionysus and never had very 
much scenery, and yet was one of the world's greatest theatres. 
They refer you to Shakespeare's apron stage, where the actors 
were often without benefit of scenery altogether (although 
they did wear elaborate costumes, and there was always 
scenery on the inner stages), the place of action being an- 
nounced by a mere sign. 

These arguments convince few people. A producer who is 
desperately trying to cut costs never eliminates scenery and 
costumes. When a play is done on a bare stage or in modern 
dress it is chiefly for experimental reasons, and not to reduce 
expenses. And the very people who talk with regret of the 
theatres of the past do not suggest that we stage all our plays 
with masks, as the Greeks did, or tear a hole in the roof to 
let the rain come in, as it did on Shakespeare's audiences. 

Scenery has a very important part to play in the modern 
theatre, not only to create illusion in the spectators, but for 
an additional purpose. You must remember that the task of 
creating illusion belongs chiefly to the actors. It is they who 
convince an audience that the play takes place in a Siamese 
palace, or a London drawing room, or a tropical jungle. Un- 
less they are skilled enough to do so, the audience will keep 
remembering that the supposed palace or jungle is nothing 
more than painted canvas on the lighted stage of a darkened 
theatre, But in order that the actors may convince the au- 
diencewho will first convince the actors? 

That is one purpose of the scenery and costumes, and, 
according to Stanislavsky, the main purpose (although few 
designers would agree with him). An actor with sufficient 
genius may be able, by the power of his unaided imagination, 
to transform himself into any character, anywhere, without 



scenery or special costume. But a more ordinary actor needs 
some help. We may say, inverting Shakespeare, that all the 
stage is a world. The actor cannot entirely believe it is the 
world in which he is a Danish prince or an English farmer or 
an American sailor unless it looks and feels the part. 

The more removed the setting is from the ordinary life of 
actors and audience, the greater the need for imaginative 
scenery. To create the illusion of a business office, all you 
need is a desk, a couple of chairs, and a few telephones. To 
create the appearance of a modern factory, you need a lathe 
or two, or the suggestion of an assembly line. But to build 
the palace of a king of Siam, the imagination of actors and 
audience requires considerable help. So, for that matter, does 
the imagination of the scene designer, who must do a great 
deal of research to learn what a Siamese palace actually 
looked like. 

The scene designer first reads and studies the play. He 
must decide what action and what moods he wants to em- 
phasize with his scenery. All designers know how to create 
striking effects, how to make audiences gasp. But a striking 
effect must not be obtained at the expense of the actors and 
the play itself. Actors and audience must be influenced by 
the set and then accept it without being continually disturbed 
by it, any more than you are continually distracted by the 
furnishings of your own home. The set exists for the sake of 
the play, and not the other way around. 

How does the designer create environment, or "flavor," or 
whatever he seeks? 

First, he must decide what the playwright's purpose is in 
each case. His decision will depend on his ideas concerning 
the theatre in general and the given play in particular. If the 
play is Romeo and Juliet, for instance, one American designer 
might be most impressed by the tragedy caused by love; 
another might see chiefly the power of hate to corrupt the 
lives of innocent victims; while a Soviet designer might see 
the characters in the grip of vast social forces they do not 
understand. If Shakespeare were alive, he might disagree with 
all of them. But, as Shakespeare is dead, he needn't be con- 

The director, however, must be consulted, and so must an 
author who is present and living. If the playwright's purpose 



14. Sfage designer Jo 
Miefz/ner (Yignf), director 
Alan Schneider (second 
from left), members of 
the faculty, and students 
discuss sef for a new play 
erf Catholic University. 

Courtesy of Catholic University 

is systematically altered, the result may not be what he in- 
tended, but it may still be interesting and moving (think of 
the production of Julius Caesar in modern dress, for instance). 
If, however, designer, director, and author all move in dif- 
ferent directions, the play will not merely be distorted, it will 
be wrecked. 

Having decided what he must emphasize, the designer will 
sketch the different settings roughly, in black and white. He 
may note what objects should be in the set, and what colors 
and lighting effects he will want. 

This too, of course, will be done in consultation with the 
director, as well as with the producer and possibly the author. 
If there is agreement on the nature of the settings, the de- 
signer will carry out the necessary research in museums and 
books, and wherever else he finds it convenient, and make 
detailed scale drawings and ground plans. He may construct 
a tiny model of the most important or complicated set, and 
the director may run through the play within the model, pos- 
sibly using doll characters that can be moved about by hand. 



If the drawing and model are satisfactory, the designer 
will now make water-color sketches. If there is time, most 
designers will also do the costumes and the lighting as well 
as the sets, in order to insure that costumes and sets work 
together to achieve the desired result. If the sets themselves 
take up too much of his time, the designing of the costumes 
may be assigned to others. 

The actual scenery will be created from the working draw- 
ings and model, and then painted in the manner shown by 
the water colors. But before paints are applied or fabrics used, 
they must be tested under the various lights to which the sets 
will be subjected. Paints and fabrics sometimes change color 
under lights of different kinds as unexpectedly as if they were 
experiencing human emotions. 

The designer will carefully supervise the actual creation by 
carpenters and painters of the sets he has sketched, and will 
then plot the lighting. By this time, the actors are far along in 
their rehearsals. It would be desirable for the designer to see 
the actors in contact with his scenery, to decide once more 
whether his work is satisfactory and to alter it if it is not. If 
he works for the off-Broadway stage, he may be able to do so. 
But on Broadway it is by now usually too late. Whether the sets 
are appropriate or not, the production is stuck with them. 

At most, the designer may make minor changes. Usually 
he will be able to make drastic and expensive alterations 
only if there have been radical revisions of the script. And 
this will be the case only if producer and director have de- 
cided that the situation is desperate and that the expense 
of a new setting is inevitable. 

So much, then, for the technical process of designing. But 
there are many artistic problems to the choice of design, and 
these influence the technical methods all along. 

Suppose you are designing for a community theatre. Only 
rarely will you have at your disposal either the money or the 
trained professional workers of the commercial producer. Hence 
you will be forced to simplify as much as possible. 

Some community theatres substitute drapes for setting. 
Drapes are simple, inexpensive, and as conventional as the 
screens of the Chinese theatre. They have a neutral effect; 
they do not destory illusion, as a bare stage does, but, on 
the other hand, neither do they create it, as a setting does. 



Thus, a company acting before drapes starts off under a 
definite handicap. If the play is not too difficult and the 
actors not too unskilled, however, drapes may suffice for an 
enjoyable production. 

If you are dissatisfied with drapes, you may try to intro- 
duce simple, symbolic scenery. The effectiveness of such 
scenery will depend greatly on the mood of the play. If the 
play is modern and realistic, the setting had better be fairly 
realistic too. But if the play is poetic, or the time and place 
of action are far removed from our own ancient Greece, for 
example the unfamiliar costumes will themselves suggest the 
scene, and the illusion will be strengthened by a simple set 
which portrays an altar to one of the gods, the throne of a 
king, and so on. 

However, such settings depend greatly for their mood on 
the lighting, and the effort that can be saved in the con- 
struction of drops and flats must be made up for by great 
skill and artistry in the use of a complicated lighting system. 
And many community groups have only the simplest lights. 

If your community theatre has painters and carpenters who 
can create more elaborate sets, you can get a closer approach 
to realism. No community group aims any longer at the 
Belasco type of naturalism, in which the stage is cluttered up 
with a complete replica of a farmhouse, ship, etc. You select 
those portions of the actual scene that you need, and you 
modify them for stage purposes. 

You don't use actual wallpaper, for instance the spectators 
are too far away, and the details of the design will be lost to 
them. Instead you paint your flats with an enlarged design 
to give the effect of wallpaper. You don't show a kitchen with 
all the pots and pans, all the boxes and containers of food, 
that a real kitchen would have. You show only as many as are 
needed to convince the audience that the scene is a kitchen. 
You simplify, both to make your work of set construction 
easier, and to keep from drowning your scenes with unneces- 
sary detail. 

If the production is to be stylized, you not only simplify 
most of the details, but you exaggerate some feature of the 
set. Here, however, you must be warned that you are playing 
with fire. Exaggerate the size of a spider web in a corner, use 
dim lights, and you may convey a mood of gloom and neglect 



and also, without intending to, an impression of artiness 
and absurdity. Scatter large frisking lambs over your walls, 
toss a huge Teddy bear into the center of a rug, and you make 
it clear perhaps painfully so that the scene is a happy nursery. 

Stylization and "expressionism" have, in the views of many 
professionals, been among the more distressing ailments which 
have afflicted American amateur and community theatres. 
They seem so easy, their effects are so simple to produce! 
Build a crooked door or window, have your chimneys and 
lamp posts leaning at odd angles and presto, you have "poetry" 
and "art" in your production! 

It usually doesn't work out quite that way. Nevertheless, 
if you are putting on an expressionist play (and there are a 
few such plays that do retain their interest), a realistic setting 
is out of place. You will have to risk the pitfalls of expression- 
ist design. 

Courtesy of Kermit Bloomgarden. Photo by Eileen Darby, Graphic House 

75. Stage sef designed by Jo Mielziner for Arthur Miller's 
Death of a Salesman. 



Remember, then, that the exaggeration of some features 
implies the complete neglect of others, so that in this case too 
you can often simplify set-building. But, again, any simplifica- 
tion of the work of carpenters and painters must be made up 
for by great skill in designing what set there is, and by 
careful handling of the lights. You must have an eye for the 
contrast of light and dark, of one color with another, of one 
shape with another. You must remember that you are designing 
for the actors, and that no scene is complete without them. 
And, once more, you must never forget that one lapse of taste, 
one exaggeration of the wrong kind, may make your entire 
production ridiculous. 

If you want to design for the stage, you have good reason 
to study architecture. The designers are the architects, as Lee 
Simonson has called them, of stage space. A century ago, 
designers were scene painters. The stage setting consisted of 
flats, and the living actors, along with their own flickering 
shadows and the shadows of the furniture, mingled with the 
painted people and the fixed shadows on the flats. In those 
days, an actor would pretend to lean for support on the 
painted pillar of a building. Nowadays, audiences would laugh 
at such a sight, and anything the actor is to lean on must be 
solid and three-dimensional. 

With the extension of scene designing into three dimen- 
sions, lighting took on a new importance. The art of lighting 
began when theatres were moved indoors and performances 
were given at night. Gradually, designers learned how to 
heighten the effect of their settings by centering all the lights 
on the stage, leaving the audience in relative darkness. Dur- 
ing the past half-century, the art of lighting has grown tre- 
mendously. OIL some stages, as in theatre-in-the-round, light 
serves as the curtain which separates actors and audience. It 
begins and ends scenes. It changes the entire effect of scenery 
and costumes from one moment to another. 

Many different kinds of lights are now used footlights, 
which illuminate the actors from below; border lights, from 
the side and from above; focusing spotlights, which direct 
sharp beams; and soft-focus spotlights, which cast a directed 
but more diffused light. The art of proper manipulation of 
lights cannot be learned offhand, and in a community theatre 
any amateur in charge of lighting had better do a great deal 



No, 619 

No. 610 

16. A lighting board of the 
type used In some high schools. 

Courtesy of Kliegl Bros. Lighting 

of experimenting before settling on the final lighting scheme 
for any play. 

The center of illumination must be the actors. Thus, most 
stages need to be lighted at the bottom (where the set forms 
a background for those characters who do not fly or mount 
stairways, etc. ) and the center, toward which the actors tend 
to gravitate. A long finger of light pointing downward gives 
the effect of depth, while a horizontal shaft, which leaves the 
space above it dark and mysterious, may emphasize the small- 
ness and loneliness of the setting. The pattern of light may 
change sharply as there is a sharp change in the mood of the 


No. 832 
F O T I I 6 H T 

No 43M 


No. 1365 

No. 1155 

No. 533 

No. N-6 
K I I E G L A D D E R 


play; or it may alter so slowly and imperceptibly that the 
audience doesn't realize it is changing at all and thus help- 
ing the tension to mount toward a climax. 

The scene designer may use lights to solve the problems 
posed by exteriors, which are usually more troublesome than 
interior sets. The attempt to create the illusion of distance 
by the use of perspective has always run into difficulties. For ' 
one thing, perspective that is correct from a seat in the front 

of the orchestra mav be seriously distorted from a seat in a 

j f 

balcony. It is usually safer to rely on atmospheric perspective, 
which creates the effect of distance by the increased blurring 
of details. As we recede into the background, the lighting be- 
comes dimmer, and at a certain point a gauze drop still further 
conceals the details of the scene. 

Along with a knowledge of lighting must go a knowledge of 
how to paint sets. In stage scenery, every type of material- 
wood, steel, concrete, brick is simulated with paint. But the 
paint must not only give the appearance of the genuine ma- 
terial. If it covers a large and prominent area it must create 
an interesting surface in its own right. Thus, a red background, 
for instance, is never painted a single shade of red, for this 
would look dull and drab, and it would seem to lose intensity 
as the light altered. (The nature of the light always varies 
slightly, due to such causes as fluctuations of the line voltage, 
aging of lamps, etc.) Instead, the flats are painted with many 
washes of red which differ from one another in shade and 
value, or different colors are stippled in against the red back- 
ground. This gives the effect of a rich texture which does not 
lose its effect as the light varies. 

One thing that every designer must take into account is 
the size of the stage on which the play is to be given. No 
two commercial theatres are built to the same dimensions. 
And a designer for a community theatre, which must often 
rely on whatever stage it can find in auditoriums or high 
schools, is in an even worse fix than the commercial designer. 
The stage may be far too small, and there may be practically 
no space for the storage of scenery. This is the more common 

17. Various types of sfcrge 
lights that can be used in 
school productions. See also 
top and bottom of page 92. 


No. 353/955G 


18. Lighting a sfage set. 

Courtesy of Goodman Memorial Theatre 

case, and when you are faced with a situation of this sort 
you have no choice but to simplify your scenery to the limit, 
cut down the size of your borders, and try by every means 
possible, including type of design and method of lighting, to 
give the illusion of more space than you have. 

Once in a while, however, you will have a stage that is 
too big, one that dwarfs your players and makes them look 
lost. Here, of course, you try to give the illusion that your 
stage isn't so big after all. But you have, in addition, another 
choice. On a large stage you can arrange several sets, and you 
can shunt the action from one to another, as was done on the 



Elizabethan stage, without any delay for scene shifting. The 
trick again lies in skill and simplicity of design, and in the 
effective use of lighting. 

Not only the stage, but the orchestra and the balconies, 
must be taken into account. Half your effects will be wasted 
if the audience at the sides of the theatre or in the balconies 
cannot see a good part of the sets. Before settling on your 
final design, consider the sight lines from every part of the 

As a designer for a noncommercial theatre you may have 
to depend on amateur stage hands. That is another reason for 
keeping your scenery simple and the flats small On the other 
hand, if you design a single set that can be left permanently 
on stage, you won't have to worry about limiting the width 
of your flats to five feet nine, which is the maximum that 
will permit the flat to be loaded conveniently on a box car 
for touring. 

When it comes to costumes, you must have a considerable 
knowledge of the fabrics that can be used to imitate the 
clothes of different periods. The most important thing about 
stage clothing is that it helps create the role of the actor. For 
this purpose, less depends on the color pattern (although this 
must be effective and must either harmonize or contrast prop- 
erly with the scenery) than on the manner in which a garment 
drapes the figure. It is this, more than any other aspect of a 
costume, that gives both the actor and the audience the feeling 
of a character. A costume must not be so awkward as to 
prevent the person wearing it from moving properly. On the 
other hand, discomfort may be a part of the effect you want. 

For instance, the ruff that a dandy wore in Shakespeare's 
day will choke a modern actor almost to death; but it will 
also force him to keep his head up and impose the proper 
dandyish manner upon him, just as a whalebone corset will 
give the proper feeling of old-fashioned artificiality and im- 
prisonment to an actress accustomed to the greater freedom 
of modern clothes. 

You see that although the scene and costume designer 
must start from the loftiest considerations of the meaning of 
drama, and of the proper use of light and space, none of his 
intentions can be realized without an intimate and thorough 
knowledge of a great number of practical details the nature 



19. Walter Hampden In cos- 
fume for The Crucible. 

Courtesy of Kermh Bloomgarden. Photo by Alfredo Valente 

of flats, which are bolted to the floor, and of drops, which 
hang down from near the ceiling-the functions of different 
kinds of lights, paints and fabrics, and so on. The designer 
must be continually immersed in what seem like trifles, with- 
out forgetting the larger purpose of what he is doing-that he 
is working with inanimate materials to create a world for living 

Perhaps something of what he has to do can be made 
clearer by presenting at this point interviews with Howard 
Bay and Mordecai Gorelik, two designers who are among the 
most respected in the American theatre. 


What Every Young Designer 

Should Know 


If you follow the reviews of Broadway plays, you 
have proabably come across the name of Howard 
Bay over so long a period that you think he is 
one of the older generation of stage designers. He 
is nothing of the kind. Although he has been active 
in the theatre for years, he is still one of its 
younger artists. We interviewed him immediately 
after the final rehearsal of Two on the Aisle, with 
frequent interruptions because of the need to make 
last-minute corrections and changes in the sets. 

What do you have to "know to become a scene designer? 

HB. Standard art training is essential However, that isn't even 
the minimum. You'll have to study the architecture of different 
periods, so that no matter where and when the scenes of your 
play are laid, you'll be capable of designing appropriate 
scenery. But you'll have to know more than just the architec- 
ture of a given period. Haunt the museums, read books, find 
out how the people lived. Learn enough so that, if necessary, 
you'll be able to stage Shakespeare as he was staged in 
Elizabethan England. 

Then as a stage designer you must do considerable research? 

H B. Yes and, most important of all, you must never stop doing it. 
Not just in museums, but in the day-to-day living habits of 
the people of your own times. Develop a third eye which auto- 
matically retains all impressions of how different people live, 
how they dress, how they furnish their homes. Sooner or later, 
the most unexpected bits of information may turn out to be 

But primarily you must be an artist? 



HB. An artist and a craftsman both. And you must know some- 
thing about science. About paints, for instance. Scenic paint- 
ing is a highly skilled art, with many differences from easel 
painting. So far as I know, there is no school that teaches it, 
and it can be learned only in the studios where the work is 

YouTl have to know something about electricity, in order 
to be able to handle the lighting of your sets. Some productions 
have special lighting experts, and some of these, like Jean 
Rosenthal of the New York City Center, are fine artists. But 
you shouldn't have to rely upon anyone else. In general, 
you're responsible for lighting the play whose sets you have 
designed. You must know how to handle a switchboard, and 
how to handle lighting effects so as to get the exact result 
that you want. 

It doesrit sound easy. Are all scenic designers so capable? 

H B. Of course, not all are on the same level, but there are really 
no incompetent scenic designers in the professional theater. 
We the Scenic Designers Union take care of that. Member- 
ship is open to everybody who can pass the qualifications 
and pay the initiation fee. But those qualifications are set 
deliberately high. An actor can get by for a time on looks or 
personality, a producer on the ability to raise money. But 
scenic designers must know their business from the start. 

Is it worth knowing from the financial point of view? 

HB. It is, these days. Television has meant considerable work 
for scenic artists. 

Designing for television must usually be more like designing 
for a musical comedy or revue than for a nonmusical drama. 
Are these sets more difficult to handle? 

HB. Sometimes. The revues are much more difficult to design 
than musical comedies. There is greater stylistic latitude in 
musicals. They have a book which provides a certain unity of 
conception from one scene to the next. But revues lack this 


Courtesy of Theatre Arts Magazine. Photo by Walter Rvsenblum 

20. Stage design by Howard Bay for a scene In the 1946 revival of Show 
Boat, by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammersteln IL 

Courtesy of Theatre Arts Magazine. Photo by Vandamm 

27. Stage set by Howard Bay for Come Back, Little Sheba, by William 


unity. You finish one revue scene, and you begin the next 
from scratch. 

What about designing for school and community theatres? 
Where can you learn that? 

HB. Partly in the theatres themselves. These theatres don't face 
exactly the same problems we face on Broadway. And with 
all their disadvantages, they have the one great advantage 
that their labor, being voluntary, doesn't shoot expenses up 
too high. The materials, lumber and so on, are relatively inex- 

Remember too that the noncommercial theatres are at 
least to some extent experimental theatres, and their scenic 
artists must experiment too. They have no need for elaborate 
sets. They can paint scenery on a simpler scale, and while 
painting they can learn. 

Don't universities with theatre departments have professors 
who can teach scene designing? 

H B. If there are professors who have worked as scenic designers 
themselves, fine. Unfortunately, there aren't many. 

Then you have a low opinion of university and other non- 
Broadway theatres? 

HB* Oh, no. Not in general. I have a low opinion of them when 
they're not as good as they should be when they try to ape 
Broadway, instead of striking out for themselves, and succeed 
only in aping its weaknesses and not its strength. 

I think that's the big danger that these theatres face- 
imitating other theatres. And for their scene designers, here's 
one special form of this danger I'd like to warn against 
"artiness." The theatre is an art, yes, and scene designing is a 
part of that art, but don't try to imitate "arty" settings. I've 
seen a bad imitation ruin an entire production. 

On Broadway, we've had productions ruined by bad writ- 
ing, bad acting, bad directing, bad producing but not so 
often, I'm happy to say, by bad scene designing. 


The Designer As Creative Artist 


Mordecai Gorelik designed the scenery for such 
plays as Processional, Men in White, Golden Boy, 
and All My Sons, and for such movies as None 
But the Lonely Heart and Give Us This Day. 
Author of the book New Theatres for Old, and of 
the article on Theatre in the Encyclopedia Amer- 
icana, he has been a Fellow of both the Guggen- 
heim and the Rockefeller Foundations, and was 
sent to Europe by the National Theatre Conference 
to study the conditions of the theatre abroad. 

What is the best way to learn stage designing? 

MG. The American universities give good courses in stagecraft. 
But we underestimate what theory means in relation to prac- 
tice. I had an example of this when I taught design to G.I.'s 
at the American University at Biarritz. I talked to them about 
dramatic metaphor the poetic relationship of the setting to 
the theme. But too many were interested only in knowing how 
to get stage effects. 

We Americans are pragmatic, we want to get things done 
but we sometimes forget that things can't be done right 
unless we understand the theory as well as the practice of 
what we're doing. 

Can you show how that applies in designing a set? 

MG. If I were running a class, the first thing I'd ask a student 
designer is: "What do you contribute to the production?" It 
isn't enough to contribute atmosphere. A set is made for living 
actors, and I'd make clear to the students that they can't 
begin to design until they know what the actors are going to 
do in relation to the setting. 

In other words, you must know the script thoroughly? 



MG. More than that, I must direct it in my own mind. The 
director then works out the action on the basis of my model, 
about which, of course, we have consulted in advance. The 
designer's direction is in some ways more complete than the 
director's direction. The director spends the four weeks of 
rehearsal making discoveries, and he may end up with a totally 
different conception from the one he started with, because 
the four weeks haven't been merely a mechanical unfolding 
of what he planned, The designer, on the other hand, has to 
have his conception complete before rehearsals start. In some 
ways, therefore, he has to be a better guesser than the director. 

Courtesy of ANTA 

22. Stage design by Mordecai Gore/fJc for Desire Under the Elms, by 

Eugene O'Neill. 


Does the director realize that? 

M G. Usually. But few others do. I am convinced that not many 
critics or producers, for example, have any real notion of what 
the designer is doing for or against the play. 

Can a young designer in a community theatre be of value to 
the production? 

MG. More than many people realize. The setting has a subtle 
influence on the play, and on people's reaction to it. Before 
a youngter starts to make a drawing, he should ask himself 
what the play will mean to the audience. He must keep in 
mind what interesting points the play makes scenically, and 
what he can contribute to these. 

He must remember that a set is environment. It may be 
a house that people have built, as in All My Sons, or a 
hospital where they work, as in Men in White. Environment 
is something more concrete than "atmosphere." Environment 
affects the lives of people, and people in turn make their 
impression on environment. 

I like actors to come into contact with the scenery, and 
I therefore tend to put scenery in the middle of the stage, 
where the actors can deal with it and feel an immediate 
relationship to it. 

How about designers in Europe, Mr. Gorelik? How do they 
compare with ours? 

MG. Design in Europe is on a high level, and there is a more 
solid understanding of the designer's contribution. In some 
ways designers have it easier there because they do not work 
under such great financial strain as we do here. Here, at 
every turn, we must think of how to cut costs. 

In the 'twenties and 'thirties Europe experimented with 
different forms of stylized theatre and produced outstanding 
designers and directors. The technique used by these was 
known as "theatricalist," because it emphasized the theatrical 
aspects of the play. Theatricalism was opposed to the "picture- 
frame" or "fourth-wall" stage; it believed in getting back to 



Courtesy of ANT A. Pboio by Guy Gillette 

23. Setting up the scenery for the American production of L'Ecoie des 
Femmes (School for Wives), by Moliere, which was performed by o 
French company starring Louis Jouvet. 

the old platform theatre, as in Shakespeare's day. And it was 
responsible for many brilliant productions. 

But they dont produce in the same way now, do they? 

MG. No, the era of brilliant technical experiment seems to have 
passed. In Western Europe and America we seem to have 
returned to an attenuated sort of naturalism, except in musical 
shows, where theatricalism still has great influence. In Eastern 
Europe well, here the whole question of ideology is concerned. 
In 1934 the Soviet theatres adopted a policy which was called 
"socialist realism" (which, they explained, means that the 
plays have to be "realistic in technique and socialist in 



content"). This means that they expect plays to have a 
perspective of social, economic and political explanation. And 
that applies to design, too: for instance, a setting of the Middle 
Ages may stress the military basis of feudal architecture. 

On the one hand, they are against what they now call 
"formalism" and "faddism," meaning technical brilliance which 
shows itself off at the expense of the content of the plays. 
On the other hand, they object to the naturalism of Antoine 
and Belasco as producing mere facsimiles, giving no insight 
into the meaning of environment. I am told that Belasco 
once reproduced an Automat in its entirety. Audiences gasped 
in admiration at the lifelike quality of the setting. But his 
sort of naturalism is objected to by Soviet designers. They 
call it a kind of snapshot which tells nothing about the Automat 
as a social phenomenon. Furthermore, their designers look 
upon environment as being always in process of change 
which is the reason, perhaps, why so many designs of the 
Soviet theatre of the theatricalist period were conspicuously 
dynamic. But the doctrine of socialist realism is still being 
fought over in Eastern Europe, and how the whole thing 
has worked out in practice I don't know. I didn't visit the 
Soviet theatre on my trip. 

But you did see most of the rest of Europe? 

MG. I visited nine countries, from Ireland to Poland. Italy has 
a few good theatres, but, in general, their theatre work is 
below the level of their best movies. There is very interesting 
theatre in Berlin and Munich. Both Central and Eastern 
Europe have decentralized theatres, meaning that there are 
fine companies outside the large cities. You can get recog- 
nition by working in the smaller cities. In Eastern Europe the 
dramatic companies are well subsidized, and are further aided 
by national campaigns to organize and increase the size of 
audiences. Ticket prices are low to start with, and factory 
workers and students get seventy per cent discounts. Our 
American theatre, too, needs that kind of support or it will 
not survive. 

Don't toe also have playwrights, producers, actors, and de- 



signers, who get recognition by working in out smaller 

MG. True, but to a lesser extent, and with us Broadway usually 
remains the goal. However, I think that even in our own 
country, decentralization has to a large extent already been 
accomplished. And my impression is that theatre is healthier 
when it is decentralized. Of course, the quality of theatre 
varies greatly from one community to another. The National 
Theatre Conference realizes that there is still much to do 
here, and that is one reason they sent me abroad, to learn 
what foreign theatres are doing in the face of problems similar 
to their own. 

And you think that the picture is encouraging? 

MG. It is if we take a serious attitude toward the theatre and 
work hard for it. It begins to look as if Broadway is in for 
a long period of discouragement, made even more critical 
by high production costs and the competition of TV. This is 
the time when the university and community theatres can really 
take the initiative, if they can show the capacity and courage 
to do worth-while productions not merely warmed-over Broad- 
way hits. Production costs are still low in the playhouses 
scattered all over the United States, and the local designer 
often has a chance to experiment something which Broadway 
can rarely afford today. 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW once remarked that from the point 
of view of the author, acting is the art of making an audience 
believe that real things are happening to real people. (Oc- 
casionally, Shaw might have added, unreal things happening 
to unreal animals, such as the lion in his Androcles and the 
Lion.} Therefore, the actor's first need is to know how real 
people feel and behave. 

If you had been in a Moscow streetcar some fifty years 
ago, you might have seen two men engaged in a loud argument 
over who had stepped on whose foot. Actually, neither man 
was guilty. The real culprit was sitting quietly at one side, 
noting the way the two angry disputants raised their voices, 
held their bodies, expressed their feelings on their faces. He 
was an actor, sent out by Stanislavsky to observe people, to 
start little arguments and see how his victims reacted. That 
was one of the ways in which Stanislavsky trained his actors. 

Unfortunately for the actor, real people are not always in- 
volved in exciting arguments. Sometimes they behave in very 
undramatic ways and seem downright dull that, in fact, is 
why many of us go to the theatre to see imaginary people. 
Therefore, the actor must know how to arouse an audience's 
interest. He must learn a technique, a way of making the 
audience pay attention even when he is doing nothing more 
exciting than eating an apple, or listening to some other actor 

Acting is thus something different from merely imitating 
a real action. How different? Actors disagree violently, and 
their disagreement produces many conflicting schools and 
methods of training actors. And every school has a different 
approach to the many problems that the actor and the direc- 
tor must solve. 

You are Hamlet, standing downstage that is, near the 
audience talking to Polonius, who is upstage. Should you face 
the other man, as is natural in ordinary life, and thus deprive 
the unfortunate audience of a view of your face? Or should 



you face the audience, and thus seem unnecessarily impolite 
to the older man? 

In the more or less good old days, the rule was to face 
the spectators, who had, after all, paid to see you, and Devil 
take the other actors. When actors and audiences learned, to 
their astonishment, that there was such a thing as realism, 
some actors began to perform "naturally" and turned their 
backs on their audiences. Nowadays, the tendency is to eat 
half the cake and keep half of it too. That is, the actor finds 
some plausible, "realistic" reason why he shouldn't turn his 
back completely to the audience. He may turn his face away 
because shame keeps him from looking the other man in the 
eye. Or he may turn half away to warm his hands at a fire- 
place, etc. 

Three men find themselves on stage having an intimate 
conversation. If they were to perform naturally, they would 
group themselves together in one corner and talk in ordinary 
tones, that is, loud enough to be heard in the first row 
of the orchestra. That, however, would leave most of the 
stage empty, and create an unbalanced picture. So the three 
men scatter, forming a triangle (they do not stand or sit in 
a straight line, as that is also bad stage composition) and do 
their talking in loud tones that are supposed to convey the 
impression of quiet intimacy. 

Now, not every actor can stand upstage center, the most 
effective stage position, with every other actor to stare at 
him and focus the audience's attention upon him. And in not 
every scene can the actors scatter themselves convincingly 
over the stage to produce pretty pictures. Thus, if the desire 
for effectiveness is carried too far, the audience will not be 
convinced that the scene is real, and the very effect aimed at 
will be lost. 

What is true of the arrangement of actors on the stage 
is also true of the use of the voice, of gesture, of bodily 
movement. A vocal inflection that is natural may be barely 
noticeable, and if noticed may be flat and uninteresting, while 
one that is exaggerated may be rejected by the audience as 
too "theatrical." At every turn, compromise is necessary. 

Exactly where should the compromise be made in the 
direction of greater stage effect, or greater realism? 

The answer will depend not only on the director and the 



actor but on the play. If the play was written by Aeschylus 
or Shakespeare or Moliere, then It was not meant to be acted 
realistically. But that does not mean that the actor must not 
make his character a "real" person who actually seems to 
experience the emotions the playwright has given him. It does 
mean that the degree of realism of the acting, as of the setting, 
is affected by the playwright's own conception of the char- 
acters and by the lines he has written for them. These charac- 
ters, though living, are grander, more tragic, more villainous, 
or more ridiculous, than life. And now and then they step 
partly out of their scenes to confide little secrets to the audience, 
in soliloquies or "asides." 

Most modern plays are written in a more realistic manner. 
They must be played with less obvious exaggeration, or the 
characters will seem false and the audience will not believe 
in them. This is not true, however, of poetic plays, which must 
often be acted in a stylized manner indicated by the play- 
wright's dialogue and stage directions. 

Granted that as an actor you must give the impression 
that you are a real individual the author has created, there 
remains the further question: How do you achieve this realism? 
Do you really feel the emotions this character is supposed 
to feel, or do you just pretend to? 

On this point, actors and critics have conducted two hun- 
dred years of warfare. One group, traditionally associated with 
French acting, has maintained that to the degree an actor 
loses himself in the part, he stops being an actor, stops af- 
fecting the audience. The actor, according to this theory, must 
be calm and unemotional, aware of himself at each moment. 
He must be able to perform each gesture, produce each in- 
flection, in a manner carefully calculated beforehand. An acting 
method which accepts this theory, like the Delsarte method, 
divides the body and the stage into dozens and hundreds of 
"zones/' and teaches the student innumerable gestures, move- 
ments, and vocal inflections to be employed for the purpose 
of achieving definite effects. 

However, this theory has lost considerable ground during 
the past century, and especially since the work of Stanislavsky 
has become known. To Stanislavsky, the actor is not pretending; 
during the play, and sometimes longer, he is the character he 
pretends to be. He must "creep under the character's skin," 



he must experience the character's emotions and live a life 
different from his own. And the more thoroughly he can do 
this, the more effectively he will persuade the audience that 
it is watching real things happen to real people. 

Now, here too there must be a certain compromise. The 
actor may live the part of a murderer but he'd better not 
stab his victim with a real knife. Or, what would be even 
more fatal, he must not turn his face away from the audience 
and confine the play of expression to his back during his 
big speech of the evening. That stage, as Stanislavsky said, 
is his world, and the audience has no part of itbut in the 
back of his mind is the knowledge that the audience is there, 
and that if not for this audience, the stage world would not 
trouble to exist. 

Much depends on the personal temperament of the actor. 
Whatever their theories, some actors find it difficult to assume 
their stage parts. For an hour before the play, they must 
work hard to get in the mood, to forget their own feelings 
for the feelings of the character they are to become. But 
once in the mood, many actors cannot help being emotionally 
torn by their parts. They finish their roles emotionally ex- 
hausted, and for a time have difficulty in escaping from the 
shadows of their stage world and adjusting to the real world 
around them. 

On the other hand, many famous actors have no difficulty 
whatever in snapping in and out of a part at a moment's 
notice. They put on and take off a character with less trouble 
than if it were a pair of shoes. Some of them play emotional 
roles with no emotions of their own. Others, despite the 
ease with which they don their roles, do feel strongly. . 

On the whole, as Uta Hagen indicates in one of the fol- 
lowing interviews, actors these days tend more to the Stanis- 
lavsky method. They learn how their characters feel, and they 
try to share these feelings. 

This is especially important for young actors, not only 
for the reasons Miss Hagen indicates, but because young 
actors tend to be self-conscious and nervous. Very few per- 
formers ever overcome nervousness entirely, especially on first 
nights, when they feel that their fate is in the hands of an 
audience which is making up its mind whether or not to use 
those hands for applause. But the presence of an audience is 



especially terrifying to the inexperienced, and there is no bet- 
ter protection against this terror than to become absorbed in 
the character. 

Everything you do on stage must be done in character, in 
such a way as to be in accord with your feelings and to in- 
dicate these feelings. If you sit down, you do so for a purpose 
because you have received bad news and are too weak to 
stand, because you want to relax, because you want someone 
to sit beside you. This purpose will determine the manner in 
which you sit. If your only reason for doing a thing is that 
the author has written: Pie sits, or She turns away and covers 
her face with her hands, or He stands motionless, his hands 
clenched, the audience will immediately sense your lack of 
purpose and refuse to believe you are the person you pretend 
to be. Modern playwrights give elaborate stage directions 
describing the motives and states of mind of their characters, 
in order to help you convince the audience. 

" However, as we have seen, it is not enough to get beneath 
the skin of a character. You must project the character's 
feelings far beyond the skin, in such a way that the audience 
will unmistakably understand what they are. For this you 
need the control of voice and body and facial expression that 
comes from continual study, practice, and experience. You must 
have both a keen eye and a good ear. You needn't involve 
people in quarrels, but you must note how individuals behave 
under all the circumstances of life when they are happy or 
angry, when they receive good news or bad, when they make 
plans or drift. You must know how a young girl's reactions 
differ from those of a middle-aged woman, how the voice and 
posture of a man change as he grows older. 

You must do a great deal of reading, and you must learn 
something about art, music, and science, as well as many 
other interests which people have or else you will not be able 
to portray a wide range of characters on stage. If you have 
ever seen a young Hollywood leading man pretending to be a 
world-famous surgeon, and have noted the laughter of the 
audience, you will realize how silly it is to try to play people 
you do not understand. You will increase your chance of 
getting parts if you can play musical instruments, fence, dance, 
or do acrobatic stunts. Even as an experienced actor, you will 



be continually taking lessons to increase your range of abili- 

You will have to learn how to work with other actors, for 
a play is not a solo performance. You will have to learn how 
to pick up a cue at exactly the right moment, so that you 
neither interrupt the previous speech nor permit a pause in 
which the tempo drags and the audience falls asleep. You will 
be forced to learn how to protect yourself against mistakes 
of other actors, so that the wrong cues do not throw you 
off balance, or the wrong interpretations induce you to follow 
their lead. And you will have to guard against throwing other 
actors off. Despite the director's attempt to cast a group that 
can work together, you may come up against styles of acting 
that conflict with yours. Someone who overacts may make your 
own performance seem taine, someone who underacts may 
make you seem too loud and pretentious. It should be the 
director's task to see that there is no conflict, but if the 
director fails, you must be capable of protecting yourself. 

You will have to adjust to all sorts of theatres, with dif- 
ferent kinds of stages and acoustics. On one stage you may 
speak in your normal manner and be heard in every seat of 
the house; on the next, you may be inaudible past the first 
three or four rows. 

You will have to know something about audiences too. Some 
are quicker to grasp a point than others; some applaud at 
the drop of a hat, or the lift of a voice, or laugh every time 
at the fall of a comedian's trousers; others sit on their hands. 
Beware of too much acting before audiences that are easy to 
please. The audience is one of your teachers, and you must 
be on guard against the bad teaching that will give you a 
dangerous smugness and lead you to develop sloppy acting 
habits. Avoid like the plague, however, audiences that are 
too arty and precious, for if you succeed in gaining their 
approval (you can't really please them) you may be hissed 
off a more down-to-earth stage. Shun the smilers who are so 
well-bred that they never laugh. 

You will have to learn all the rules of acting, not that 
you may be able to follow them, but that you may know 
what has been done before and what can be done again. 
A rule in any art is simply a way of doing things that a 
previous artist has found to be effective. But every method 



24. Sarah Bernhardt as fhe 
Queen in Ruy Bias, by Vldor 


Courtesy of French Embassy Information Division 

loses its effectiveness in time, and then new methods have to 
be found. Learn to break rules not accidentally, because then 
you may miss a way of doing things that is still effective, but 
deliberately, with an understanding of what you gain by the 

Every new play is a new problem. You may start with 
the intention of making your character a real human being 
and then find that the playwright has created absurd pup- 
pets, creatures who no more behave like human beings than 
does Donald Duck. It's up to you then to fill the void with 
your own personality, to make the audience forget that the 
playwright has failed. But if a character has depth, as in the 
plays of Shakespeare or Chekhov, better submerge your per- 
sonality and play the part, to the best of your ability, as the 
author intended. Shaw and other discerning critics rated 
Eleanor Duse above Sarah Bernhardt because, although Bern- 
hardt had great skill, she was always herself no matter what 
the part, and was thus actually at her best in bad and silly 



plays. There are a few old movies of Bernhardt in which her 
style of acting appears, to modem eyes, ridiculous. But Duse 
was always the person she played, and real people do not 
go out of fashion. Bemhardt impressed audiences; Duse moved 

You may, after helping to bring a weak play to life, end 
up with a contempt for playwrights and the feeling that the 
author is nothing, the actor everything. Don't let your ego 
swell too much. Many a star has felt that he could shine in 
anything, and has let himself be lured into a play whose one 
virtue was that it gave him all the important scenes only to 
fall flat on his face, as much a failure as the play itself. 
Authors are of some importance after all, and some of the 
best of them, from Sophocles, Shakespeare, and Moliere down 
to modern playwrights, have been skilled actors themselves. 
Don't bite the hand that feeds you your lines. 

You will have to learn how to be at home in all sorts of 
uncomfortable and possibly ridiculous costumes, and with var- 
ious kinds of make-up. You will have to experiment with 
straight make-up, which is used to counteract the effects of 
artificial lighting and of distance from the audience, and with 
character make-up. For straight make-up you will add red 
to the lips and pink to the complexion, as well as emphasis 
to the eyes. You begin by rubbing cold cream into the entire 
face and neck, removing the excess, and then applying grease- 
paint in streaks to every part of the face and neck not covered 
by costume, and blending it in. The exact shades will depend 
on your complexion. The entire purpose of this kind of make- 
up is to emphasize your good features and make them more 
perceptible to the audience. 

With character make-up, on the other hand, you must 
learn how to create an entirely different appearance. You 
must learn to apply crepe paper and make it look like a 
natural beard or mustache, how to change the shape of eyes, 
nose, and face, how to add or subtract years from your ap- 
parent age. As Edith Atwater suggests later on, once you 
can make yourself seem genuinely old, you have essentially 
mastered the trick. But this is not merely a matter of wrinkles, 
shadows, and white hair. You must stand, move, and talk 
with the weight of years upon you. 


Courtesy of Goodman 
Memorial Theatre. 
Photo by Varies Fisher 

2SA & 25B. Making up for 
the part of John Brown In 
The Moon Besieged, an 
original play by Seyril 
Schochen produced at the 
Goodman Memorial 
Theatre, Chicago. 

We shall see, in the interviews with Helen Hayes and Uta 
Hagen, among others, how greatly actors emphasize the need 
for training their voices and bodies. The author's script and 
the director's interpretation of it are conveyed to the audience 
almost entirely by the things the actors do and say. And if 
there are any limitations on their ability to move or speak, 
the actors are handicapped from the start. 

The training of both voice and body is a matter of prac- 
tice. In many respects, body training is a simpler matter. 
Muscular strength and flexibility are attained through certain 
kinds of work and through sports, gymnastics, and dancing of 
various kinds ballroom, modern, ballet, ethnic, and tap. If 
you are at all like the average individual, you have taken 
part in some sports as a smalL child and in others as you 
grew older. And nowadays, even the elementary-schoolchild 
has a chance to learn to dance. Body training, therefore, is 
merely a systematic continuation of things you have begun 
to do long before. 

Things are different with regard to voice training. From 
the age of a few months on, we learn our habits of speech 
unconsciously from those around us. Our ears are gradually 



accustomed to noting certain differences in sound and to 
paying no attention to others. By the age of three or four, 
we have already undergone, without being conscious of it, 
considerable voice and ear training much of it harmful from 
an actor's point of view. Long before our teens, most of us 
have formed habits of speech that will last us throughout 
our lives, unless we make deliberate efforts to change them. 

Why should we change them at all? Well, try making a 
public speech, or try reading a passage from Shakespeare, and 
you'll see, or rather hear. If you do your trying out in a fairly 
large hall, someone in your audience is almost certain to cry: 
"Louder!" And if you attempt to respond, you are likely to 
find yourself shouting, still without being heard clearly in 
the back of the hall. Some of your words may be unintelligible 
because you mumble them, or pronounce them sloppily. You 
may find yourself out of breath in the middle of a sentence, 
or stumble over combinations of consonants that never twisted 
your tongue before. (The word "consonants" itself may throw 
you for a loss.) You may be disconcerted to find that your 
voice becomes shrill and thin, that your audience finds it 
boring or even -unpleasant to listen to. 

In short, you may find that your voice is in the grip of 
bad habits, and will not do what you, or the author of a play, 
want it to do. Every would-be performer on the stage goes 
through a similar experience. Some famous actors, like Sir 
Henry Irving, have had to overcome stammering, in addition 
to the more usual difficulties. 

Do you want to hear what proper training can do for the 
voice? Listen to a third-rate radio serial, and note how a 
trained actor can create a character, or several characters, 
with sound alone. Observe how the voice, rather than the 
dialogue, holds whatever interest you can find in such a play. 

Granted the need to train your voice, then, how do you 
go about it? The first thing to understand is that you cannot 
do it alone. Unless you have listened to a good recording of 
your own speech, you can have no idea of how you sound to 
others. And unless you have a well-trained ear, you can hardly 
realize, even after listening to a record, how many faults you 
have acquired. 

You need a good teacher and for many individuals, find- 
ing a good one may be perhaps the most difficult part of 



26. A speech class at Catholic 
University concentrating on 
orol interpretation. 

Courtesy of Catholic University 

voice training. The ignorance of a teacher of voice can ruin 
the pupil's instrument. For a voice is not merely a combina- 
tion of mouth, nose, larynx, and so on, which remain un- 
changed no matter what is done to them. Improper training 
can result in bad habits which are very difficult to correct, 
and it can also strain the vocal organs and leave them per- 
manently injured. 

How do you select a good teacher? You cannot do it by 
taking at face value the claims made in personal advertise- 
ments. Some are downright frauds who know nothing at all 
about the voice. Others are incompetent to various degrees 
usually to very great degrees. A fewsingers or actors who 
have had both good voice training and considerable stage 
experience themselves are competent to teach others, So are 
a large proportion of the teachers of voice and speech in high 
schools, colleges, and the better dramatic schools. If you can- 
not study voice in one of these schools, you might, at any 
rate, speak or write to the teachers in them, and see whether 
they cannot recommend a good teacher in your locality. 

When you go to a good teacher, you will find that before 
you begin your actual studying, he or she will study you. If 



your voice is very nasal, or hoarse, the teacher may recom- 
mend that you see a nose and throat specialist to find out 
whether there is any physical difficulty that should be cleared 
up before you begin your training. 

Once your teacher knows that your vocal apparatus is 
reasonably healthy, he will begin teaching you how to breathe. 
Most of us knew how to breathe properly when we were in- 
fants, but have picked up bad habits since. We tend to em- 
phasize the motion of the chest and shoulders, whereas, proper 
breathing emphasizes the use of the diaphragm and abdominal 
muscles. Incorrect breathing is usually shallow breathing. The 
lungs do not get enough air, and neither the inhalation nor 
exhalation of what air is taken in can be well controlled. 

You will have to learn again to breathe from the diaphragm 
and abdomen, and when you speak you "will have to practice 
breathing rapidlythat is, through the mouth, as swimmers 
breathe. You will have to keep up this practice until you can 
breathe correctly without any longer having to think of how 
you are breathing. 

Breath control is the beginning of voice control. When we 
are asked to speak more loudly, most of us tighten our vocal 
cords, or vocal bands, as they should more properly be called. 
The result is a feeling of strain and a rise in pitch, alongside 
an increase in volume. After a time, the strain becomes too 
much, and our voices grow weaker. Volume is properly at- 
tained without strain by increased pressure of the abdominal 

Proper breathing also permits better control of pitch. When 
our bodies as a whole are tense, our vocal bands are tense too, 
and the pitch of our voices rises. A voice that is too high is 
exhausting for the speaker, and often unpleasant for the listener. 
And the fact is that most of us habitually speak in voices that 
are too high. Note the pitch of your own voice or better still, 
the voice of someone in your familyimmediately upon rising 
in the morning, when the vocal bands are still relaxed, and 
later in the day, after fatigue and tension have done their 
work. You will note that the pitch is lowest in the morning, 
and rises after the hours of activity. 

An important part of vocal training is therefore the avoid- 
ance of tension. Many teachers give exercises to train you to 
relax. You may not be able to prevent unpleasant events that 



upset you and contribute to general tension. But proper breath- 
ing and voice production, along with special exercises for 
muscular relaxation, will help you to avoid tension in the vocal 

One of the results of voice training is thus likely to be a 
slight lowering of your normal speaking voice, accompanied 
by an improvement in its quality. At the same time, as you 
learn to speak without strain, and you are farther away from 
the top of your register, your voice acquires greater flexibility. 

During the early part of your vocal training, you may 
feel that what you are doing is very artificial and affected. 
And in some cases this may be true. If you have been used 
to speaking in a monotone, you may, when you begin to train 
your voice, exaggerate the inflections, the changes of pitch, 
that are needed to arouse interest. If you have been accus- 
tomed to mumbling the ends of your sentences, you may 
overcompensate by making unnecessarily painful efforts to 
articulate clearly. And if you carry these and other undesir- 
able effects over into your general conversation, your friends 
will undoubtedly think that you are putting on airs. 

It will be your teacher's task to remind you that the ob- 
ject of voice training is to help you communicate more effec- 
tively with others, not to set you apart from them. Any method 
of speech that calls attention to the peculiarities of the voice 
and its use, instead of to what that voice has to say, is a 
bad one. A good teacher will not let you acquire affected 

Both as an actor and as an individual you want your 
voice to be pleasant to listen to. You don't ordinarily want 
it to be hoarse or throaty, or squeaky. It is true that some 
actors have peculiarly husky or otherwise unusual voices which 
have become almost like trademarks. But these actors are 
occasionally limited in the roles they can play. It is much 
better for you to have a voice so flexible that you can make 
it hoarse or squeaky as a part requires, and make it sound 
entirely different in another role. 

You want to be able to speak English that is correct, 
without offensively calling attention to its correctness. A good 
part of your work will therefore consist of studying phonetics, 
the science of language sounds, and practicing diction. You 
will very likely prefer a teacher whose natural accent is not 



strilcingly different from your own. That is, if you were born 
in Kansas City or Omaha, you do not want to end up with 
an Oxford accent. Whatever your place of birth, you will 
find it advisable as an actor to speak English that is clear 
and easily understood, and lacks striking peculiarities that 
indicate any particular region. 

In your role as actor, in contrast to your manner of speech 
in private life, an important characteristic your voice must 
have is flexibility. Your own life may be quiet and relatively 
unadventurous, without moments of great sorrow or tremen- 
dous tragedy. A voice with a narrow range may suffice to 
express your meanings and emotions. But on the stage you 
must be able to express extremes of passion. You must be 
able to handle your voice as a singer does, almost as if it 
were an instrument apart from you, but under your control. 

If you don't have clarity, or pleasant quality, or flexibility 
of voice before you start, you cannot achieve them without 
considerable practice. A good part of it must be done under 
the direct guidance of your teacher. Much of it, however, 
must be done alone from the beginning. Good teachers recom- 
mend frequent short practice sessions during the day, instead 
of one long one, in order to avoid strain. If you run across 
a teacher who favors long exhausting sessions in order to 
"strengthen" the voice, better leave him and find some one 

As you continue to study., you will find that you are 
training not only your voice but your ear. In fact, unless 
both sorts of training go together, you are wasting a good 
part of your time. For eventually, unless you go to Hollywood 
and a movie studio pays for your vocal coach, you will have 
to stand on your own feet, or rather listen with your own 
ears. You yourself must be able to hear what is happening 
to your own voice. After a time you will not need to take 
lessons so frequently, and eventually you will be able to 
discontinue them altogether. 

But before that time comes, you may have to do con- 
siderable work. It will be effort well spent. In most plays, 
no single characteristic so clearly distinguishes the good actor 
from die bad as skill in the use of the voice. 

Possibly some of the greatest problems you face will be 
those you encounter offstage. What do you do when you 



don't have a job with a show? How do you live? What op- 
portunities are there for actors in community theatres? How 
do you remain an actor while selling shoes or waiting on 
table? You would be surprised to know how grateful many 
well-known performers are for what little unemployment in- 
surance they can get. But to face your everyday problems, 
you will need more than unemployment insurance. You wiU 
have to cooperate with your fellow actors in Actors* Equity, 
and you will find it useful to take advantage of the training 
and help offered by a service organization like the American 
Theatre Wing. 

Offstage you will encounter people who regard you as a 
glamorous figure and at the same time watch you warily for 
fear that you will try to borrow money from them or steal 
their hats. The old Elizabethan idea of the actor as vagabond, 
rogue, and thief has not been entirely eradicated from many 
people's minds. Very few of us think of the actor as a priest, 
which he was in ancient Egypt and medieval Europe, or as 
an honored representative of the people, which he often was 
in Greece. A few producers tend to regard him as a slave, 
as in ancient Rome. 

Actually, the social position of the actor has been rising 
for the past few centuries, and it attained great respecta- 
bility when Sir Henry Irving was knighted in England in 
1895. But too many of us the actor himself included still 
think of the acting profession as something akin to quackery. 

Actually, the actor is, or should be, an individual who 
has attained skill in a certain field of endeavor that most 
people find difficult. His profession teaches him often but 
by no means always a certain openness of mind, a tolerance 
for others. An actor, for instance, is less likely to be seriously 
affected than the average person by racial prejudice. As an 
artist, he comes into contact with an important area of human 
culture, and he helps spread this culture to others. He cannot 
help absorbing some of it himself. 

Contrary to the impression of many people, he is not a 
fraud who is always putting on an act in real life. The 
strain of his profession is too great. Two or three hours of 
acting at a stretch on the stage are enough. 

Beyond his special art, he is still human, with all the 
normal human hopes and fears. But he is by no means an 



average person not if he has attained some measure of suc- 
cess in a profession that nowadays is so full of discouragement 
and uncertainty. He has demonstrated unusual courage and 
persistence and other qualities which may become more evi- 
dent as you read the interviews which follow, arranged in 
alphabetical order. 


the Actor Faces 


A Broadway producer who has a casting problem 
with regard to a woman's role is likely to think of 
Edith Atwater to solve it. Widely experienced, 
though still young, she is both skillful and talented, 
and is versatile enough to have played in such 
varied productions as Tomorrow the World, The 
Man Who Came to Dinner, King Lear 9 and the 
musical "Fldhooley. 

You will read occasionally of actors who started 
their careers at the age of six months, when they 
were carried on the stage and made to utter loud 
shrieks. Miss Atwater's interest in the stage didn't 
begin quite that young. But it began early enough. 

EA. I was interested in the theatre as a child. I made my own 
scenery, and put on plays in the neighborhood. Later on I 
studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and with 
Richard Boleslavsky. It's a sad commentary on the state of 
the theatre that a lot of the people I started with some of 
them very talented have since left the profession. 

What sort of training did you have? 

EA. Some dancing, some singing that has to be part of any 
training for the stage. But mostly acting. The most important 
thing is to act and to keep on studying. The best training is 
with a stock company. 

Aren't some of the stock companies pretty bad? 

E A. That doesn't matter so much. Even if you have a bad director, 
it's better than not having a chance to act at all. Besides, 
when you're a novice, you can't take advantage of good 
direction when you get it, any more than a young pupil 
just starting to scrape a violin can benefit much by studying 
with Heifetz. After you've had some experience, however, you'll 
profit tremendously when you do run across a good director. 
It's good experience to put on a new play, to create a 
part. It would be wonderful if we could find more creative 
writers who could write new plays worth producing. 



Courtesy of Leland Hayward. Photo by Vandamm 

27. Ralph Bellamy, Edith Atwater, Minor Watson, and Myron McCorrnkk 
'in a scene from State of the Union, by Howard Lindsay and Russel Grouse. 

Then, you must read the classics, like Shakespeare and 
Ibsen. Shakespeare wrote to be played, and is very easy to 
play, sometimes easier than a modern playwright. Everybody 
can learn a lot from putting on his plays. For instance, a 
community theatre that wants to do inexpensive productions 
can learn how to work without scenery and with a minimum 
of props. Actors can learn how to show they are at ease 
without lighting a cigarette, Yes, it's very good training. 

But suppose some of your group dorit feel quite at home 
with Shakespeare, or any other playwright you choose? 

E A. They 11 feel at home once they understand the characters. 
The entire group should discuss them, fill in their backgrounds, 


learn why these characters, who seem so strange to us, didn't 
seem strange to their original audiences. Once you under- 
stand a character, you can bring it to life. 

But being an actress is much more than a matter of 
learning parts. One of the problems that bothers young people 
in the theatre is make-up. Now, the first principles of make-up 
have to be taught. Other people have learned what creams 
and paints to use and how to apply them, and you may as 
well profit by their experience. The most difficult thing is 
to learn the trick of making a young face look old. If you 
can do that, you can do anything. But once you've acquired 
that ability, you have to do some experimenting. You must 
try to understand your own face. Dramatic schools give courses 
on make-up, but you don't need a long course if you have 
an aptitude for it and are willing to experiment. 

If you want to know how different types of people look, 
at different ages, and with different hair styles, go to a 
museum or library 7 . A playwright may give you all the de- 
scription in the world, but the only Way to know how a period 
hair-do looks is to find a picture, best in a museum or library. 
And the same thing goes for costumes. 

Once you are an actress, how do you go about getting a job? 

EA. I don't know any more. I, and many other actors, used to 
work all the time. But there are so very few plays in production 
now that it's often a long wait between parts. It must be 
frightfully discouraging for young people. The search for jobs 
has become a rat race. You have to be awfully lucky, look 
just right, meet just the right person at the right time. 

It sounds like a gloomy picture. 

E A. It is. The only way out that I can see is a sponsored theatre. 
Decentralization of the theatre is absolutely necessary. There's 
no growth now except in some small groups. Television is 
pushing the theatre further into the background, and the 
only answer the theatre can make in terms of quality- 
costs too much money. That's why the commercial level is so 
low. Good theatre costs so much that tickets are priced too 
high. Take King Lear, for instance. The audience that sup- 



ported it was composed of people who love the classics 
and they're not wealthy. So the orchestra was empty, and 
the balcony packed, and the result was that the production 
lost money and the show had to close despite the tremendous 
number of people who wanted to see it at balcony prices 
or less. 

I don't see any way out for the commercial theatre. I 
know that the first thing a young actor thinks of is Broadway, 
but actually the best place to start is in a community theatre. 
The young actor has a painful thing to realize: that the 
theatre does not support its own people, even those who have 
been successful enough to have their talent recognized. The 
only exceptions are a few stars who receive high salaries- 
provided they can find the right parts and are lucky in 
choosing plays that have long runs, And sometimes they're 
not lucky, and they too are out of work for years. I tihink 
it would benefit both the community theatres and Broadway 
if stars were sent out to play with the community theatres. 

From what you've said, it would seem that most people dont 
gain much from the theatre. 

EA. Not in terms of money, no. That's why so many leave it, 
although they hate to do so. Being an actress drives you on 
from one part to the next, and each new part is a new 
problem. That's what makes the theatre interesting the prob- 
lems rather than the "glamour." There's no glamour on the 
inside, only hard work, and the realization of all the things 
you have to learn. It's taken me years, to learn to be any good. 
It takes a while, too, to get rid of some of the preconceived 
ideas you hold about actors. Most people think that an actor 
is necessarily an extrovert, always trying to be the center of 
attention. But that isn't necessarily so. The extrovert has cer- 
tain advantages to start with. But an actor may be shy, 
introvertedand the very fact that he's so sensitive may make 
him a better actor in the long run, after he's learned the tricks 
of the trade, 

How do you feel personally? With the commercial theatre 
in so sad a state, would you want to give it up? 



E A. Personally, I don't want to change. With all its weaknesses, 
I prefer to stay in the theatre. On the other hand, if I had 
known in the beginning the terrific work that's needed, the 
drain on my vitality, the discouragements and difficulties Td 
meet, I might have thought twice. And then possibly done 
exactly the same thing I've already done! 


a for in a 


It takes the fingers of only one hand (and not ail 
of them) to count the actresses who hold a special 
position as leading ladies both on the stage itself 
and in the hearts of theatre-goers. One of these 
leading ladies is Katharine Cornell. 

It is difficult, within the limits of a few words, 
to introduce Miss Cornell properly. Perhaps we 
needn't even try, for to those who know our theatre 
at all, no introduction is necessary. It may be 
enough to recall that she was one of the greatest 
of Juliets in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, and 
has starred in such Shaw plays as Candida, The 
Doctor's Dilemma, and Saint Joan, as well as in 
Chekhov's The Three Sisters and other fine plays. 

As an actress-manager who has a wide choice 
of new works, she has put on her own productions 
for twenty-one years. Her acting has a quality 
which has insured success for plays by less exalted 
playwrights than those we have named, and it may 
seem odd, therefore, that she does not appear more 
often in new plays. 

Is U especially difficult, Miss Cornell, for an actress who has 
achieved your position to find a suitable new work? Do 
you demand too much of a play? 

KG. It's nice of you to speak so kindly of my position in the 
theatre, but I must disclaim it. However, as for your question 
itself I do demand a great deal of a play. It must have not 
only a role that suits me, but the right general atmosphere 
as well. And that's difficult to find, either in a comedy or 

I feel very strongly about the dignity of human beings 
and about the warmth that can be found in people, and I 
want to convey these feelings in a play. I look for parts that 
are close to me, for the speeches that express what I want 
to say. Sometimes the play itself doesn't express this, or does 
so in a very vague manner But you know that there are 



many ways of interpreting a play, of bringing out values 
which the playwright himself may not have intended. So 
sometimes, by the manner of production, I can bring the play 
around to saying what I want it to say. 

I feel, too, that I have the responsibility of bringing good 
plays to people, plays in which the authors speak as honestly 
as they can. Youngsters, especially, are able to recognize what's 
good. During the war, we did The Barretts of Wimpole Street 
for our troops abroad. Many of the young men in the Army 
had never before seen a live play, but the tour was most suc- 
cessful. I've never seen such enthusiastic responses from au- 
diences. It made me realize once more that if you give young 
people the best theatre, they'll accept it and demand more. 

Arent these among the reasons why you have done so 
many of the classics, which are often considered so un- 
profitable to produce? Isn't it true that such playwrights as 
Shakespeare and Shaw offer not only the best roles and the 
most effective scenes, but the qualities you want, as well? 

KG. Yes, it's in the classics that we find the most profound ex- 
pression of human dignity. That's why they've become classics. 
Of course, to most schoolchildren, Shakespeare's plays do not 
express dignity at aU they are merely indignities to which 
the helpless students are subjected. Shakespeare should be 
taught only by people who understand and love the beauty 
and meaning of his plays, and have the desire to find and im- 
part them. Shakespeare can't be imposed on people. They 
must be free to accept or reject him. 

But I don't want to imply that it's only in the classics that 
I can find the things I'm looking for. Sometimes, when I'm 
reading plays, I begin to think there are so few new writers 
and yet there are many young authors who have great talent, 
like Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams, for example. They 
write fine plays. They don't, however, write the kind of roles 
in which I can appear. 

Doesn't the very strength of your personality prevent you from 
playing certain roles? 

KG. I don't think it's a question of strength of personality. It is 



Courtesy of Katharine Cornell. Photo by Graphic House 

28. Katharine Cornell and Lenore Ufr/ o scene from Shake- 
specie's Antony and Cleopatra. 

true that there are certain roles I wouldn't try to play. But 
there are others which the critics don't want me to play. They're 
the ones who do much of the type-casting. They have an idea 
of the kind of person I am, and they have their conceptions 
about how certain roles should be played. For instance, some 



critics, and many spectators, think of Cleopatra in Shake- 
speare's Antony and Cleopatra as a tart. Now, Cleopatra was 
a cultured woman who spoke eight or nine languages and 
ruled a great country. She was a queen, with the dignity of a 
queen. But when I played her that way, there were objections. 

Do you think you could overcome these ideas about your stick- 
ing to a certain type of role by having an author write a 
different type of role just for you? 

K C. I don't think great plays can be written for any one actress. 
Sardou tailored his scenes to Bernhardt's measurementsbut 
his plays are hardly alive today. Shaw sometimes tried to write 
for a specific actress, like Ellen Terry, But if the play is good, 
the characters come alive and carry the author along with 
them, and then the entire contour of the play is changed. 
That's what happened in Shaw's case. Ellen Terry wasn't al- 
ways satisfied with the way the finished work fit her. Shaw 
didn't make as skillful a tailor as Sardou. He was too fine a 

Suppose, Miss Cornell, we had a repertory system, or some 
system of production that involved a smaller investment of 
money. Wouldn't you find it easier to discover suitable 
plays, to risk going against the type-casting to which you 
have been subjected? 

KG. Very likely. It would be wonderful to have repertory on a 
year-round basis. There's been a great deal of talk about it, 
although little has been done. The trouble is that there is a 
terrible circle of expenses involved in production. If that could 
be broken through, all of us in the theatre would benefit. 
As it is, many of us need a great deal of determination to stay 
in the theatre. 

How about young people who aren't in it yet, but are trying 
to get in? 

K C. I think that the best thing they can do is stay in their com- 
munities, and act there or write there because they feel they 
must. Sooner or later, if they're good, they'll attain the pro- 
fessional theatre, become part of it, and help give it new life. 
And perhaps then we'll get more and more of those good 
new plays all of us are looking for. 


What Makes a Character Actor 


Clarence Derwent has acted in a tremendous variety 
of roles and has had very wide experience in the 
theatre. He has been president of Actors' Equity, 
and during the time of this interview was head of 
ANTA and chairman of the American branch of 
the International Theatre Institute. He has taught 
acting to university students as well as to young 
professional actors, and has written an autobiog- 
raphy, The Derwent Story. He is known as one of 
the best of character actors. What a character 
actor is, he can best explain for himself. 

C D. Today, a character actor is nothing more than an actor who 
has passed the age when he can perform juvenile parts. It's 
a very unfortunate interpretation, because fifty years ago all 
acting was character acting in the real sense, that is, in the 
art of impersonation. Because repertory abounded, as it still 
does in England, there was no danger of type-casting. A com- 
pany had to use what actors it had available. Versatility was 
sought, and naturally it was infinitely better experience to 
play a round of highly diversified parts than to do the same 
part and reproduce one's own personality over and over again 
during a long run on Broadway. 

My first week on stage, I played Horatio in Hamlet, Sir 
Benjamin Backbite in The School for Scandal, and roles in 
East Lynne and Schiller's Mary, Queen of Scots. These were 
completely contrasted parts, and although I'm sure that my 
performances were abominable, I learned more in that one 
week than the average actor learns during a year on Broad- 
way. YouVe seen those advertisements that invite you to "Learn 
while you earn." Well, for the young actor, that was repertory. 
It was a school for acting in which the audience gave frequent 
examinations and made awards. Sometimes the examinations 
were difficult, as when at the age of nineteen I had to play 
an old roue of eighty in Sappho, but the training in charac- 
terization was first-class. 



Is character acting anything new, Mr. Derwent, or is it some- 
thing that has had a long history? 

C D. Character acting has existed as long as the theatre. It is the 
stimulus in the art that makes acting worth while. But methods 
have changed. In England this resulted chiefly from the work 
of two people, Granville Barker and Miss Annie Homf- 
man, in Manchester. They introduced the realistic school, which 
affected the British theatre to the same extent that the Mos- 
cow Art Theatre affected the Russian. 

Formerly, reliance on make-up was too great. We've veered 
away nowadays from heavy wigs and lines, from make-up that 
is too heavy and draws attention to itself. Now the actor must 
rely on his ability to act and sound like the character he is 
impersonating. That's why he needs training to cover a range 
outside his own personality. Unfortunately, it isn't often that 
he gets it. Most actors don't even develop their voices. 

Doesrit voice training help? 

C D. That isn't enough. There has to be a motive behind the 
training. The actor must feel the need for greater ability than 
he has. Por example, one night I would play Slender in The 
Merry Wives of Windsor, and the next night a witch in 
Macbeth. That obviously required an extended range of voice. 
But most acting today doesn't require it so obviously, and 
most actors use only the middle register. 

How is it, Mr. Derwent, that they develop so little variety? 

C D. Partly, it's due to the use of a microphone in radio and tele- 
vision. With a microphone in front of your lips, you need 
project even less than when talking in a room. And then again, 
there's type-casting. An actor isn't usually called on to do a 
part too different from the kind he's already done. The average 
young actor would be ghastly, not ghostly, as the Ghost in 
Hamlet. He doesn't have the necessary depth of voice. But he 
would have it if he trained. 

Most of us today have no idea of what a tremendous range 
an actor's voice can have, what a wonderful instrument it can 
be. Harvard and a few other places have old records of Edwin 



Booth as Othello, as well as of Ellen Terry and Sarah Bem- 
hardt and other great stars of the past. Listen to those records 
when you get the chance, and you'll understand how they 
could hold their audiences in good plays and bad. The music 
in their voices made up for any deficiencies in the script. 

We sometimes hear complaints, Mr. Derwent, that people in 
the audience cant understand what the actor says. Would 

voice training remedy that? 

C D. Voice training and some knowledge. The troubles with au- 
dibility and articulation in the current theatre are largely due 
to ignorance. The average actor doesn't realize that his audi- 
bility is dependent not on the vowels but on the consonants. 
Nine times out of ten, if you tell him he can't be heard, heU 
apply vocal pressure, and blast. If he'd only bite his con- 
sonants, he wouldn't have to apply pressure, and would yet 
be heard. Double consonants, especially, seem to be difficult, 
not only for actors, but for most other people. The remedy lies 
in taking care, and in practicing. 

Do you think it's a good idea for professional and amateur 
actors to play in the same production? 

C D. An excellent idea. Until a few years ago, we in Equity didn't 
allow our members to play with non-Equity members. Then, 
because we realized there were reciprocal advantages, we 
very wisely let down the bars. Fm not saying that the pro- 
fessional is always better, but there's no question that the 
contact gives a student something which no director can teach 
him. Take the question of timing, for instance. In real life, 
when you ask a question, the reply doesn't come immediately. 
But a student who hears his cue picks it up immediately and 
gives an unrealistic effect. The experienced actor invariably 
allows a split second before picking up his cue, and this gives 
the scene life and truthfulness. You don't get the same result 
when the director tells the student to delay his answer. Then 
you usually get a pause through which you could drive a 
horse and buggy. 

The professional can help in a dozen ways. The student 
always has difficulty with gestures. The French, both the 



Courtesy of Stanford University 

29. A scene from fhe Stanford University production of Sheridan's The 
Rivals. Clarence Derwenf and A//ne MacMahon (center and right), Artists 
in Res/cfence, performing with students. 

actors and the people as a whole fit movements very naturally 
to what they are saying. But in England and the United 
States we don't do that, we have a habit of restraint. Well, 
an actor can't be restrained, and when the student realizes 
that, he sometimes begins to gesture all over the place. But a 
gesture should as a rule be felt, not seen. It's the same 
thing as with make-up. The moment you're aware of it as 
make-up, it defeats its own purpose. With certain exceptions 
as when you pound a table or gesture without speech an 
audience should feel the effect of the gesture as lending 
weight to what the actor is saying, rather than be aware of it 
as a gesture. The professional can show the student how the 
thing is done, he can help him develop a mobility and flow 
of gestures. 



But what does the professional gain from the association? 

CD. For one thing, a chance to play a greater variety of roles, 
and improve his own range. And for another, he can acquire 
some of the student's enthusiasm. Enthusiasm is a most useful 
thing to have in the theatre. 

When a professional acts in a university play, Mr. Derwent, 
do you notice any tendency for him to take over? 

CD. Not usually. Speaking for myself, when I'm acting, I don't 
intrude on the director's province unless Tin asked to. If I'm 
supposed to be an actor, I remain in character as an actor. 

In your character as head of the American branch of the In- 
ternational Theatre Institute, Mr. Derwent, what would you 
say about our relations with the theatres of other countries? 

C D. Intercultural exchanges are very important. Thirty-five years 
ago, when I toured Holland, I started off with the idea that I 
was going to bring enlightenment to theatrically backward 
and ignorant audiences. When I saw the excellent scenery 
and efficient backstage equipment for my first play, I changed 
my views in a hurry. It's always useful to learn about the 
theatre abroad, as well as in different parts of our own country. 
It shakes us out of our complacent little ruts, gives us new 
ideas, awakens us to new possibilities. 

Technically, weVe probably ahead here, but in other re- 
spects we do need to awaken to new possibilities. One of the 
most tragic things about our theatre is that each year hun- 
dreds of young people with theatrical training are poured out 
of schools and find no place to exercise and develop their 
skills. It's our loss as well as theirs. We need among other 
things permanent resident companies for repertory. We need 
to develop our theatre far beyond the bounds of Broadway. 
That's one of the things we're working on now in ANTA. 
As for our success that depends on the support we get from 
the theatre-loving public at large. 


an Prepares for Her Part 


Uta Hagen has triumphed in roles as different as 
those o the neurotic Blanche in Tennessee Wil- 
liams* A Streetcar Named Desire and the strong- 
willed Joan of Arc in Shaw's Saint Joan, Before that 
she had acted in Chekhov's The Sea Gull with the 
Ltints, and in Shakespeare's Othello with. Paul 
Robeson and Jose Ferrer. Her brilliant performance 
in Clifford Odets' The Country Girl won her the 
Donaldson Award and the Antoinette Perry Award, 
as well as the New York Drama Critics* acclaim 
as the best actress of 1951. 

We interviewed her just before a performance 
of Saint Joan,, while she was applying her make- 
up for the role. 

How do you learn a part? 

U H. If, by learning a part, you mean learning lines and memoriz- 
ing gestures I don't. I never memorize lines and gestures. I 
search for the behavior of the character the author has sug- 
gested through the words, and try to identify myself with its 
actions. It's all in Stanislavsky's An Actor Prepares. 

Do all actors and directors use the Stanislavsky method these 

UH. I think, basically, every good theatre artist does. Some say, 
they don't, and then proceed to work in the way Stanislavsky 
suggested. Among directors I can name many who use his 
methods. Offhand, I can't think of any good ones who don't 
either knowingly or unknowingly. 

Acting isn't the art of showing off a bag of tricks. Acting 
is a creative process. And the creative part of acting comes 
from the artist. In any role, it will differ. Think, for instance, 
how many actors have portrayed Hamlet. If there were only 
one way to do the part, then, for the past three hundred 



Courtesy of Theatre Arts Magazine. "Photo by Talbot-Giles 

30. Ufa Hagen as Joan of Arc facing her inquisitors in a scene from 
Shaw's Saint Joan, directed by Margaret Webster. 

years or so, each actor would have been nothing but a stronger 
or weaker carbon copy of the one who went before him. 

So, in creating a part like Saint Joan you probably found it 
necessary to study a great deal about her? 

UH. I went to libraries and museums to learn about Joan and 
the time in which she lived. I had seen other actresses in the 
play, and I studied a film made in 1928 in which the Italian 
actress Falconetti portrayed Joan. My intention through the 
research was not to imitate, but to see what others had done 
toward uncovering facets of Joan that would make me under- 
stand her better within myself, attain an understanding which 
is of course subject to more than the research of the material. 



Jou know, Miss Hagen y that the country is full of young hope- 
fuls who want to be great actresses. How can you test 
yourself before setting your mind on the professional stage? 
How can you find out whether or not you have talent? 

U EL You can't. The need within yourself can be a guide for you. 
If you are aware that from eighty to ninety per cent of pro- 
fessional actors are out of work, and you are still determined 
to act, go right ahead. Nobody can stop you. 

But as a teacher of acting, cant you help the beginner in 
that respect? Cant you discern talent where it exists and 
encourage the student., or note its absence and advise her 
not to waste her time? 

U H. It isn't easy to tell talent. Talent evolves through mastery of 
a technique. Before I started teaching I had specific opinions 
about who was talented and who wasn't. Now I no longer 
presume to judge. Some people show a big talent at first and 
you think they are destined to go far. But often vanity, ar- 
rogance, or laziness prevents them from developing. Others 
seem incompetent at the beginning, but they work hard at 
their craft and conquer their failings and then become fine 

Suppose you re a beginner who wants to study acting y and 
you live in a small town where there are no dramatic schools? 

U H. You can still prepare for an acting career. A town has to be 
very small not to have a teacher of singing and a dancing 
teacher. The tools of the actor are his body and his voice. 
Singing develops the entire vocal apparatus so that later your 
voice will respond freely and* unself-consciously to any de- 
mands made by a role. And in the same way, dancing gives 
you the necessary physical coordination and limbemess that 
will later serve the inner technique you must develop. And of 
course there is a library of plays and theatre in the smallest 

Can you learn acting by studying other actors? 



U EL From watching the work of non-professional theatres, I would 
say that the greatest misunderstanding most people have about 
working on a part is that acting is, to them, an imitation of 
"acting," instead of the full extension and artistic expression 
of themselves. If you have an understanding of yourself at 
various stages of your personal development, you will find 
that you are limited only by your own apparatus, by your own 
personal experiencewhich is limitless compared to an imi- 
tation process. Therefore the examination of your own reac- 
tions, of how you and other human beings function, is of 
the essence. 

When these young people you talk about study by them- 
selves they always copy an actress, usually someone in the 
movies, because those are the actresses they see most. By the 
time they come to study with a good teacher it takes six months 
to undo the imitative habits. On the other hand, the study of 
a performance such as Laurette Taylor's was should be in- 
valuable if you are able to study it on the basis of a sound 
technical knowledge. 

It's only recently that the theatre in New York has made a 
big step forward in training actors. In the past, only the most 
unusual could survive. There were only isolated places where 
really creative teaching could be had. 

Does it make any difference what kind of play a youngster 
starts to work on? 

UEL With regard to acting problems, yes. In the beginning it's 
more to the point to work on a simple play. A young person 
can again get many bad habits by trying to push for the result 
demanded by a play where the characters have a subtle inner 
life too complex for the beginner to comprehend. Also, verse 
plays are extremely difficult for the beginner as well as for 
many professional actors, for that matter. 

The most important thing is that the beginner learn to 
evaluate and develop his work rather than dream of success. 
One of the tragedies of the American theatre is that young 
people try to become a part of it not because of their need 
for expression and the love of the work itself, but because 
they think of it as the means for worldly success. This is good 
neither for them nor for the theatre! 



Youve played throughout the country, Miss Hagen. What sort 
of theatre audiences did you find? 

U H. Every city has its own personality. Usually, university towns 
have the best audiences, because the people who go to the 
theatre are interested in the specific play they are going to 
see. The audiences I dislike most are those who go to the 
theatre to be seen, and not to see. 

What is life like on the road? Do you learn much about act- 
ing and the theatre that way? 

UH. Nothing that you can't learn by staying in one city. You 
have, perhaps, an extra stimulus in continually being re- 
viewed and having to prove yourself anew in each city, but 
the life is extremely wearing, not, as some people think, be- 
cause there's too much to do, but because there's too little to 
do. It's very lonely, and hotel rooms, trains, and the same 
faces of your colleagues morning, noon, and night for months 
at a time can become quite a strain. Still, it is a joyful obliga- 
tion to be able to bring your work to people throughout the 
United States. 

What about community theatres? Have you had much chance 
to see them? 

UH. Most of those IVe seen need professional leadership and 
time to mature. They don't contribute to the growth of the 
theatre because they are a hobby rather than a full-time oc- 
cupation. Theatre is not something that can be done after 
hours. It needs complete concentration, 

Well, Miss Hagen, with the Broadway theatre in such a sad 
state, and the community theatres apparently not yet doing 
the job they should what do you think the theatre will 
have to do to survive? 

U H. Work terribly hard, and hope devoutly! 


What an Actor Uses for Money 


Every actor knows Alfred Harding, editor of Equity 
Magazine, and assistant to the president of Actors* 
Equity Association. Called in as a newspaperman, 
he has edited the magazine since the November 
1923 issue and is probably the only executive of 
Actors* Equity who has not been an actor himself. 
But because of his unfailing Madness and helpful- 
ness, actors have forgiven him this fault, and regard 
him with both affection and respect. 

He has fought for the rights of actors for so 
many years that he has identified his own interest 
with theirs. He knows that they do not have an 
easy time of it. 

Equity is affiliated with the American Federa- 
tion of Labor, and gains much of its strength from 
its labor support. We were interested first in get- 
ting a picture of the organization. 

How many members does Equity have? 

A H, The figure varies from week to week. The top figure is about 
sixty-five hundred. 

And how many of these sixty-five hundred earn their living 
solely in the theatre? 

A H. Very few. Right now, about sixteen per cent of our member- 
ship is employed. There is a median employment of about ten 
weeks that is, about half our members have ten weeks' em- 
ployment or more per year, and about half have less. During 
a season, seventy-five to eighty per cent of the entire member- 
ship will get some employment in the legitimate theatre. But 
the average yearly income, including the incomes of the very 
top level, is about eight hundred and forty dollars a year. 
Actors can't live on that. 

Does Equity try to find them jobs? 


AH. Equity has no placement division, but Chorus Equity does 
make announcements of openings in Its placement office. If 
we receive a call for twenty-four girls, well make the an- 
nouncement, but we won't send out any particular individuals 
unless we are requested to. There are not enough jobs to go 
around, and we don't want to play favorites, or be charged 
with playing favorites. 

Does Equity cover the entire country? 

AH. Yes. It covers road shows, summer stock, and so on. The 
entire professional theatre. 

When was it organized? 

AH. On May 26, 1913. It established its position in a bitterly 
fought strike in August 1919. 

What are the dues, and what benefits has Equity gained for 

AH. The initiation fee is a hundred dollars, and the dues are 
eighteen dollars a year. An actor who has not paid up gets 
thirty days of grace, and he can be carried along for a year 
or seventeen months. If he wants to leave the profession, he 
can get an honorable withdrawal card. 

As for benefits, Equity has transformed the entire position 
of the actor. In the old days, the actor who was starving would 
accept work under any conditions the producer wanted to 
impose. He would rehearse for weeks and then, if his play 
failed to open, be discharged without pay. He would go on 
the road and if his show closed, be left stranded far from 
home, without money for food and railroad fare. Moreover, 
before Equity, there was no minimum salary. Actors com- 
peting for a job would be forced to take ten dollars a week, 
or less. 

Equity has changed all that. For rehearsals, an actor gets 
paid forty-five dollars a week for a minimum of four weeks 
for dramatic productions and five weeks for musicals and 
"spectacular productions." He receives guarantees against be- 
ing stranded on the road. Equity has established minimum 


scales for actors, and no longer does the actor lack bargaining 
power against the producer. 

There are many minor benefits, but these are the most 

What are the relations of Actors' Equity to other organiza- 
tions in the theatrical world? 

AH. There are close relations with Chorus Equity, which has its 
own office, treasury, and staff, and considerable local auton- 
omy with respect to such matters as disciplinary action. The 
magazine, Equity, is the official organ of both Actors' Equity 
Association and Chorus Equity Association. Actors' Equity is 
a branch of the Associated Actors and Artistes of America. 
This makes transfer to other fields movies, radio, and tele- 
visionsomething that can be accomplished without difficulty. 
And along with the stagecraft unions, we belong to the A.F.L. 

What equipment should a young actor or actress have to crash 

AH. The more an actor has, in money, training, and contacts, 
the better off he is. The chief requirement is the ability to 
persuade a producer that he approximates what the latter 

Once he is on Broadway, how does he get a job? 

AH. There are three methods. First, to go to every office and 
present himself in the hope that he will get to see the producer 
and be able to show what he can do. In a good many offices 
that's impossible, because the actor can't even get past the 

The second method is to get an agent. However, agencies 
can place established actors more easily than unknowns, so 
they generally concentrate on known people, and those who 
need help most have the greatest difficulty in obtaining it. 

The third method is to join an acting group, and act in 
off-Broadway plays, in the hope of coming to the attention of 
directors and producers. 

The European system is quite different. In Europe, as- 



pirants to the stage can apply to a government-supported 
dramatic school If they can pass the entrance requirements, 
they have the opportunity to study, and after taking examina- 
tions they are graduated with diplomas. By contrast, here we 
have only private schools, some good, other useless, still others 
plain rackets. And there are some colleges which have good 
courses in the theatre. 

In Europe they look upon the theatre as the repository 
of the best thought, as a means of presenting a nation's ideas, 
ideals, and aspirations to the people and to the world. With 
that feeling, they believe that they are justified in supporting 
the theatre financially. In this country, on the other hand, the 
theatre has always been considered a form of entertainment 
which must stand on its own feet and pay its own way. 

Congress showed this indifference or hostility to the 
theatre when it specifically wrote the Federal Theatre out of 
the W.P.A. bill in 1939. 

Do you think that the theatre needs a government subsidy? 

AH. A subsidy would be fine but I'm afraid we can't hope for 
one. Something must be done about costs, however. They have 
gone up in every way, with the result that the theatre is no 
longer interested in medium runs. A play is either a hit or a 
flop these days. Moreover, for various reasons, including high 
living expenses, actors don't want to go on the road, and that 
makes for difficulties too, 

How many Equity members, Mr. Harding, are working with 
community theatres throughout the country? 

A H. I couldn't say. There are only a few not nearly enough. 

Our failings are two sides of the same coin. We should 
co-operate with each other to a much greater extent than we 
do. The professional theatre should regard the amateur theatre 
as a source of new talent from which there will flow new blood 
in all fields of theatre. We ought to encourage amateurs by 
making our members available for counsel and working with 
them. We should recognize that the amateur theatre is not a 
rival competing for dollars. We should serve as a model for 
them and should see that the best work is done in the amateur 



field under the most favorable circumstances. Thus, the ama- 
teur theatre would win new audiences and make it easier 
for the professional theatre to survive. 

Some of our members recognize the importance of the 
amateur theatre. For instance, Clarence Derwent, former pres- 
ident of Equity, was actor-in-residence at Stanford University 
for a term, and worked with dramatic groups there. 

Amateur theatres are too often satisfied with less than they 
are capable of. One of the things they can get from profession- 
als is the raising of their own standards. A prime requirement 
of progress in any of the arts is a "divine discontent" with 
your own achievements. 

Too many of us, both amateur and professional, lack that. 
Hundreds., perhaps thousands, of groups are springing up in 
the country who think themselves superior to the commercial 
theatre. On the other hand, many professionals consider their 
theatre to be the theatre. We are both wrong. Each of us 
has something the other needs, and the fault is as much ours 
as theirs. The theatre is the whole theatre and not any part 
of it. And whatever we do for it and wherever we do it, we 
are all members of one family and by our relationship always 
set apart from everyone else in the world who does not share 
that kinship. 


From London to Broadway 


On the screen, Rex Harrison has been familiar to 
audiences in such British-made films as Noel 
Coward's Blithe Spirit and Shaw's Major Barbara, 
as well as in the Hollywood productions of Anna 
and the King of Siam and The Wourposter. These 
titles serve as examples only, for the complete list 
is too long to repeat here. The plays in which Mr. 
Harrison has appeared include most notably Max- 
well Anderson's Anne of the Thousand Days, S. N. 
Behrman s No Time for Comedy, John van Draten's 
Bell, Book, and Candle, and Christopher Fry's Venus 
Observed. In the latter two he played opposite his 
wife, Lilli Palmer, who had been enjoying a suc- 
cessful motion-picture and stage career in her own 

Like many of our most gifted actors, Mr. Har- 
rison is English by birth, and his first appearances 
were before English audiences. 

How do English audiences differ from those of Broadway? 
Do they laugh, cry, and respond in general, in the same 

R H. I don't think that audiences throughout the world react very 
differently to a good play that has wide appeal. Shakespeare 
is enjoyed everywhere, and has recently been given success- 
fully in Japan, for example. In England, audiences love the 
excitement and vitality of American musicals. 

There are -some differences, of course. Conversation pieces 
don't go in America as they do in England. Shaw is an ex- 
ceptionand a dangerous example for lesser writers of con- 
versation pieces to follow, at least as far as American audiences 
are concerned. London is slower than New York, and the 
tempo of the theatre mirrors the tempo of the town. 

No audience, however, can become absorbed in characters 
whose emotional problems it can't understand. Death of a 
Salesman was a tremendous piece of Americana, but its prob- 
lems were completely alien to the English and left them cold. 



I think youTI find that true in general-when a play reflects 
die very special feelings and problems of one group or one 
nation, no matter how well it is done, its appeal to other 
groups will be greatly limited. 

Are actors under less tension in England, where the dividing 
line between success and failure is not so sharp? 

R H. Yes, I think so. A play doesn't have to be a smash hit, it can 
be a nice little success, without losing money. And that situa- 
tion is reflected in the lessening of tension for the entire cast. 
In England actors do suffer one torture that is spared them 
here. Tea is served during one of the matinee intermissions, 
and sometimes the dishes aren't completely cleared away be- 
fore the performance resumes. The rattling can be very annoy- 

Courtesy of Playwrights Company. Photo by John Swope 

31. Rex Harrison as Henry V//I and Joyce Redman as Anne 
Boleyn in a scene from Anne of the Thousand Days, by Maxwell 



ing. I understand that you allow dishes only In your film 
theatres, where the actors don't mind the noise. 

How about what's taking place on the stage itself, here in 
America? Playwrights like John Van Druten and Tennessee 
Williams write most of their fat parts for women. And most 
of the sensational successes appear to be scored by women. 
Surely there are as many gifted young actors as actresses. 
Does this mean that our theatre's emphasis is shifting totoard 

RH. To me It seems a case of cause and effect. During the last 
two decades the American theatre has had a wonderful crop 
of actresses and the English theatre a fine crop of actors. 
When you have great actresses, you have authors writing 
plays for women. 

I think there are as many gifted young actors as actresses, 
but here in America they don't usually remain on the stage. 
For the past twenty years or more they have been, leaving 
the theatre for Hollywood. And there are three thousand miles 
between Broadway and Hollywood. In England, London is 
both the film capital and the theatre capital. Actors can make 
films without leaving the theatre. Both the films and the 
theatre benefit, not to speak of the actors themselves. 

However, the American theatre still has a large number of 
good male actors. Awards for acting are generally given, I 
believe, to both sexes. 

Mr. Harrison, you and Miss Palmer have played together for 
years now. Is it easier to work with someone whose style 
you're familiar with? Community theatres differ from Broad- 
way in that the same group is constantly working together. 
Is that helpful, or is it better to be working with new people 
all the time, as usually happens on Broadway? 

RH. There are many advantages to group playing. You break 
down the barriers of working with people who don't know you 
or one another. So many actors, in unfamiliar company, are 
afraid of making fools of themselves. They become self-con- 
scious, and tighten up. They shouldn't mind making fools of 
themselves in rehearsals. That's the place for it, and group 



acting gives them the courage to do It. It's very good for an 
actor to experiment and to expand his range. 

There's a danger in that for a novice, but the bigger danger 
is to be tight, to be too restrained. For teen-agers, rehearsals 
are the opportunity to let themselves go. They have to learn 
how to use their hands, how to scream hysterically, how to 
laugh convincingly. They can learn from actors they know 
more readily than from strangers. If they get too wild, a good 
director will check them. 

Group work doesn't stop an individual from improving. 
As for disadvantageswell, I don't see any for the individual 
so long as the group itself remains healthy. There's a grave 
danger of doing too much, of putting on too many plays in 
too short a time. When that happens, the actor just does his 
best to get through and falls into all kinds of bad habits. 

If the group avoids these dangers, the individual actors 
will benefit from playing in it. It's always good to come in 
contact with artists who can help young professionals. I know 
that London or Broadway is always the goal of a young actor, 
but it's dangerous to be exposed to either of them too early, 
before you have the ability to face the challenge of audiences 
who expect the best. Failure at an early stage can set you 
back for years. 

Do you and Miss Palmer have difficulty in finding good scripts 
in which you can play together? 

RH. One just has difficulty in finding good scripts. That's why 
English actors are always doing revivals of the classics. I know 
that American actors would like to do them too, but financial 
difficulties stand in the way here. The result is that American 
actors, although they're wonderful in American dramas, have 
difficulty in most period plays. They simply don't get the 
opportunity for proper training. Playing bits on television keeps 
the actor going financially, and it's better than no chance to 
act at all, but it isn't enough. What the actor needs is a 
chance to act in repertory. I'm grateful that I had it. 

Mr. Harrison, how do you feel about directing a play while 
acting in it? 



R H. To young people in the theatre Yd say, dbn*t try to act and 

direct at the same time. Acting can be difficult enough in 
itself, especially when you're learning. Try to get into sum- 
mer stock, or into some other group where you can play a 
variety of parts and everything doesn't depend on a single 
role. Avoid being exposed to the dangers of great success or 
great failure right away. 

The American theatre needs a prime mover, something 
that will give it a good shove along the right path and get it 
back into the communities again. The young actor should 
prepare himself for the opportunities of the future by ex- 
panding his abilities and getting more experience in the 
theatre in every way he can. 




The name of Helen Hayes Is one that spells a 
special magic for theatre-goers. Miss Hayes has 
the ability to change her stage personality com- 
pletely according to the needs of a role and to 
maintain the attractiveness of that personality in 
al roles. 

Think of the wide variety of parts she has 
played as the heroine of Barrie's What Every 
Woman Knows, Ferenc Molnar's The Good Fairy," 
Maxwell Anderson's Mary of Scotland, Laurence 
Housman's Victoria Regina, Shakespeare's Twelfth 
Night, even a free adaptation by Joshua Logan 
of Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard. She has tri- 
umphed in farce and the lightest of comedy, as 
well as in serious and tragic drama. 

To act such a variety of roles requires both a 
great native talent and tremendous skill. 

How, Miss Hayes, did you acquire that skill? When you "began 
your career, were teachers as concerned with theories and 
systems of acting as they are now? 

H H. I began acting professionally at seven, and I wasn't exposed 
to teachers. The theatre was my teacher. I learned in stock 
companies as well as in shows, through the process of acting. 
In those days the stock companies had good actors and good 
directors, from whom I acquired a great deal. 

By the time I was twenty, I had achieved stardom. But 
there were many things that my thirteen years on the stage 
hadn't taught me, and I felt that if I were ever to progress 
from being a charming young thing I had to study. So, as a 
star, I went to school not to dramatic school, but to teachers 
of dancing, posture, and voice. I worked for about ten years 
in order to enlarge my scope. I needed this to play different 
roles. Without this training I couldn't have played Mary of 
Scotland, and other tragic roles. 
I believe firmly that the right teaching is very important, 



especially today, when the theatre doesn't offer the variety of 
roles it once did. You can't exercise your talents unless von go 
to school. My daughter went to drama school to the American 
Academy for two years. 

Would you say, Miss Hayes, that there's a more serious ap- 
proach to the theatre nowadays? 

HH. There's a more desperate approach to the theatre, because 
of the shrinking of opportunities. Young actors and actresses 
feel a real inner sense of something to give, and they can't 
get a fair trial. And at the same time, among audiences 
throughout the country, there's a great hunger for the theatre. 
People always reach out to it for things their personal lives 
can't give them. Under present conditions, there are frustra- 
tions on both sides of the footlights. 

You dont stick to a single type of play. Hoio do you choose 
a play? 

H H. I choose a play when I fall in love with it. I've had success 
with plays because I've retained that simplicity of approach. 
I don't worry about whether the critics will like them. 

It isn't easy to keep that approach. Friends will tell you, 
"Your next play is your most important one/' and try to make 
you forget your own tastes and choose a part that will be 
"different" from what you've done before. They're trying to 
be helpful, but all they do is confuse you. You have to be 
wary of that kind of help. There are always exceptions, but in 
general I feel that I have the taste of the public. Most of the 
plays that don't succeed are put on just as a gamble, without 
any real belief or liking on the part of the producers. 

If anyone had told me, before the play was written, that 
he had the idea of a play like Mrs. McThing, with witches 
and gamblers, I'd have taken an aspirin. But once I read the 
play itself, I found it so full of warmth and human feeling that 
I fell in love with it. Several commercial producers saw it and 
hesitated to go ahead with a fantasy of this kind. Luckily, 
however, it was being done for ANTA, so we put it on. 



Did Mrs. McThlng make you reach for the aspirins for any 
other reason? How about the children? How did you find 

working with them? 

H H. I was once advised by a great actress, Emily Stevens : "Never 
be in a play with a child, a dog, or a railroad train." To 
many professionals It's frightening and slightly discouraging 
to see children going out and giving such performances as they 
did in Mrs. McThing. To me, perhaps it was a kind of retribu- 
tion. When I was seven, adult actresses had to contend with 
me, and later I had to contend with Brandon and Mimi. 
But It was a joy to work with them. They had honesty, and 
a pure instinctive approach to the right expression. 

How about playing for children, Miss Hayes? Are children as 
audience more difficult to please? 

H EL When the play is for children, it's just wonderful They take 
It more literally than grown-ups do. They believe it, and it's 
thrilling to feel this wave of excitement come across the foot- 

But when It's an adult play that's different. My lowest 
experience was a special children's matinee of Harriet, which 
was a play about Harriet Beecher Stowe, and was not aimed 
at children. Our intentions were wonderful the price of a 
ticket was only twenty-five cents, and although financially 
the performance couldn't pay, we were happy at the thought 
of how the children would enjoy it. Well, they packed the 
place. And then, when the play began, they found that it 
bored them, and they let loose at us. 

They made airplanes out of the programs and sailed them 
through the air, they ran up and down the aisles for drinks, 
they yelled at one another and they drove the ushers and 
actors wild. In the last act, one of the actresses could no 
longer help herself and burst into a fit of laughter. I couldn't 
keep from joining in, and so did the children. This was some- 
thing they could appreciate. For that moment, they were with 

But the play itself meant nothing to them. I learned my 
lesson never again to do another adult play for children. 

I might make an exception, though, for Shakespeare. ChiL- 



dren as a rale respond well to Shakespeare. For instance, they 
loved Twelfth Night. Shakespeare was a wonderful story-teller, 
and they love the stories, the beautiful language, the action. 
My son, when he was nine years old, went to see Laurence 
Olivier in the movie version of Hamlet in London, and on his 
return said that was the best show he had ever seen. Children 
respond to Shakespeare more in the way the Elizabethans 
probably did. They are more direct than modem sophisticated 
audiences, and they like the physical action. 

To go from childhood to the opposite extreme, Miss Hayes, 
how did you age yourself for the role of Victoria, which so 
greatly impressed everyone? Did you evolve your own 
make-up, or did you call in a technician? 

HH. At first I called in a technician, a make-up artist, and he 
went to work on me. It took him three-quarters of an hour. 
But I had only twelve minutes between acts altogether five 
minutes to clean my face of the previous make-up and take 
off the costume, and seven minutes for the new make-up and 
costume. In those seven minutes I had to rush madly. I had 
to put on lines, and insert cotton plumpers in my cheeks, 
and this had to be done with great exactness^ with plumpers 
that were weighed each day and carefully balanced. If not 
the same size they would have been uncomfortable and 
created difficulties in speaking. And then had to come the 
hair-do, the padding, and the costume. It was a more frantic 
seven minutes than any I spent on stage, and that three- 
quarter-of-an-hour make-up was out of the question. So I 
evolved my own make-up. 

While you wore it, did you feel yourself old, as if living the 
character, or was the effect almost entirely external? 

HH. No, I didn't rely on the external effect. Actually, I'm not 
terribly impressed about make-up. I can't feel that it's so im- 
portant, although that may seem like a paradox from a woman 
who became so famous for putting on make-up. 

I had a vision of Victoria, and I projected that vision. 
The make-up was a springboard. In Mary of Scotland, short 




32. Helen Hayes as the aged Queen Victoria in a scene from 
Victoria Regina, by Laurence Housman. 

as I am, I played the tallest queen in history. I thought tall, 
felt tall all the work I did on posture helped and I looked 

Miss Hayes, why do you voluntarily give so much time to 
ANTA? Do you think it will help the theatre very much? 

HH. I certainly do. I became interested in ANTA because I be- 
lieve that the theatre must live in communities. Companies 
must work in the communities the year round. Young people 
who want to be in the theatre should go back to the com- 
munities from which they came, and work there. They should 
join theatres, and organize them where none exist. It is of the 
utmost importance for them to explore the non-Broadway 
theatre, because the Broadway theatre is a shrinking one. 
One trouble with that, though, is that community experience 



means nothing on Broadway. You can get fine notices in 
Omaha or some other large city other than New York, but 
they won't impress commercial producers, or help you get a 
job in a Broadway production. 

That makes it all the more important to decentralize the 
theatre, to bring it back to the people. Tm enthusiastically in 
favor of community theatres. However, too many of them still 
have a tendency to stage a play simply because it was a hit 
on Broadway. And they have other weaknesses which we 
professionals can be of assistance in eliminating. We both have 
much to gain from each other. 

I think that in addition to helping the community theatres, 
ANTA should make its playhouse a testing ground for new 
plays and new talents, including those that the community 
theatres produce. 

That will give you an idea of why I regard ANTA as im- 
portant. I think it has a great part to play in bringing to the 
people all the good things the theatre has to offer. 


to People Laugh 


Bert Lahr is one of those comic actors who look as 
if they couldn't stop being fonny if they tried. If 
you have seen him as the Cowardly Lion in the 
movie version of The Wizard of Oz, or as a hero 
of opera and space opera in Two on the Aisle, 
or if you have listened to the sound of his raucous, 
penetrating voice, you may feel that here is a born 
comedian. But when we interviewed him in his 
dressing room before a performance, he was en- 
tirely serious, and he made it clear that he was 
funny only when he wanted to be. 

How do you become a comedian? 

B L. You have to have a basis of talent to start with. From then on, 
it's hard work that counts. But hard work without the talent 
does no good. You can knock yourself out learning how to get 
laughs and if there's no talent, you still won't get them. 

What's talent in acting? It's a kind of magnetism, some- 
thing that makes you stand out in a crowd. I can't define it, 
but it's there. You can tell it's there when you walk on a stage 
and people stop looking at the other actors and start looking 
at you. Another actor falls on his face to attract attention, but 
all you have to do is pretend you're scared, and the audience 
forgets about him and looks at you instead. And for some rea- 
son it couldn't tell you, it laughs its head off. That's talent in 

Why do people become actors, Mr. Lahr? 

BL. Because ninety-nine per cent of them are exhibitionists at 
heart. I haven't made any Gallup poll, but I'd put the figure 
close to that. People like to show off. Some of them have to work 
for a living, so they can't get to a stage, and they become Lions 
and Rotarians instead of comedians. 



How do you know> when you have the necessary talent to go 
on to the hard work? 

B L. You can't tell, yourself, but an audience will tell you. A lot of 
kids get the idea they're comics simply because they and their 
pals laugh at their own jokes. My advice to them for their 
own good is to be honest with themselves. If the audience 
doesn't laugh forget it. 

Doesn't a lot depend on your material? 

BL. Sure, but a talented comedian will enhance bad material, 
just as a poor comedian will rain all the good material that's 
given to him. However, if you know your business, you try not 
to accept bad material And once you create a distinctive style, 
writers will write good stuff especially for you. 

Courtesy of Arthur Lesser. Photo by Eileen Darby, Graphic House 

33 A & 33B. Berf Lohr in two scenes from fhe musical revue Two on the 
Aisle, (.eft, as Captain l/mverse-a satin* on interplanetary TV heroes. 
Right, as Queen (shall we sayj Victoria. 


How about the producer? Can he make a star? 

B L. That's one thing a producer can't do. He can help you, he can 
give you a chance to make yourself a star. From then on, it's up 
to you. 

Of course, to become a star you need more than talent 
alone. A certain element of luck enters into it, fate, if you want 
to call it that. You need faith in yourself while you're working 
for a break. But if you've given acting enough tries, and you 
still have no luck, try another profession. 

You don't get very much from college theatres. I don't know 
of a single good comedian who's come out of them. Maybe some 
of the professors are good comics, but if they are, they don't 
hand their talent over to their students. I don't think you can 
study to be an actor. I say it again, if you don't have definite 
talent, it's useless. 

How about the experience to bring out that talent? 

B L. Sure, you need experience. Experience will give a comedian 
the right sort of deportment, it'll teach a comedian to execute 
his talent more deftly. It'll mellow him, teach him what not 
to doand that's as important as knowing what to do. It'll 
teach him good taste. 

How about what the critics call "timing'? 

BL. I guess they mean nothing but rhythm, a natural gift for 
knowing when and how fast to do a thing. 

You say it's natural it doesn't come from experience? 

B L. Experience helps here too, but you have to have the basis for 
it to start with. 

While were on the subject of experience where can a co- 
median get it? 

BL. There aren't many good places nowadays. Summer stock is 
about the only way I can think of. Some actors think they can 
get into a chorus and wait for a break there, but choruses, with 


a few outstanding exceptions, haven't brought out comic talent. 

How about television and the movies? 

B L. The trouble with television is that you think it gives you some- 
thing for nothing. You get a bad program, but you don't turn 
it off because it's costing you nothing but your time. That 
means that some comedians can get by with anything, and 
they do. Getting by with bad acting isn't good experience. 
But when you pay six-sixty for a seat, you expect something 
good. And either you get it, or the show closes. 

In movies, these days, the comedian usually doesn't have 
much to do. The pretty boy and girl are the stars. Besides, the 
people who make movies are always afraid of going over an 
audience's head. The legitimate theatre is aimed at a different 
type of patron, and it uses more sophisticated subject matter. 

Sure, there are some things you can't say in the legitimate 
theatre either, not because there's much censorship, but be- 
cause audiences won't go for it. You can't make satire too 
biting, for instance. They won't buy that. But maybe that 
depends on who gets bitten. 

Perhaps there'll be another trend, and enough profit to 
support round entertainment, and make room for new faces. 
Then you'll have more great comedians. Right now there 
aren't so many. It used to be that a man with talent would 
mold himself by entertaining discerning audiences. Today, 
comics try to mold themselves by entertaining the average. 

Young comics have a problem these days. They find a 
successful comedian and just copy him, because all they want 
is to make a lot of money, and they think they've found a short 
cut. Well, it may turn out to be a dead alley. Years ago 
you'd go out and fool around, try one thing after another, 
until you got something that was natural to you, and different 
from what the other fellow had. Today, everyone copies. 

"You say there aren't many great comedians. How do you 

B L. I take into account that there are different types of comedians. 
Some, for instance, get laughs by telling jokes. Personally, I 
have never told jokes. Children like one kind of humor, older 



people another. 1 judge by a comic's method and deportment, 
by his individualism. I don't judge by his material or execution. 

Does a comedian learn to act all sorts of roles, or had he better 

stick to comedy? 

BL. Personally, IVe done dramatic shows like Burlesque and 
Harvey. You hear that stuff about every comedian secretly 
wanting to do Hamlet well, that isn't such a laugh. A great 
comedian could do Hamlet if he wanted to, at least as well as 
a lot of the actors who've played the part. A great comedian 
must be a good actor and should be able to make an audience 
cry as well as laugh, because there's a thin line between them. 
And an actor who knows when to cross that line can play all 
sorts of roles. 


The Negro His Roks 


Frederick O'Neal is one of the best actors we 
have. He can speak perfectly in a great variety of 
dialects, and he can cany conviction in a wide 
range of roles, from that of Capulet in Romeo and 
Juliet to that of a poor-white Georgia farmer or a 
Negro doctor or lawyer. He has narrated the story 
of Ferdinand the Bull with the New York Phil- 
harmonic Symphony Orchestra; he has been in the 
moving picture Pinky, and in such plays as A Lady 
Passing Fair, Head of the Family, and Take a Giant 
Step. He was unforgettable in the all-Negro pro- 
duction of Anna Lucasta* 

The fact that he is a Negro actor and has 
difficulty finding parts is the one thing that keeps 
him from being better known to our theatre au- 
diences. But his fellow actors know his abilities, and 
they have elected him a member of the Equity 
Council, the top body of Actors* Equity Association. 

Mr. O'Neal, how did you get your start in the theatre? 

F O*N. That was in St. Louis, about twenty-five to twenty-seven 
years ago. School plays stimulated my interest, and I decided 
I was going to be an actor. 

One of the best ways to learn the craft is to organize a 
community theatre. That's what I did. We organized the 
Aldridge Players in St. Louis in 1927. They're still alive, 
although not very active. We put on Hallelujah, Emperor 
Jones, As Jou Like It, and so on. Among the other members 
of the group there were Josephine Buck, a singer, and Winnie 
Scott, a pianist, who also went on to become professionals. 

Later I was a member of the Rose McClendon Players in 
New York. Dick Campbell was Executive Director. Muriel 
Rahn and others were also members of this group. And I was 
one of the founders of the American Negro Theatre in New 



34. Frederick O'Neof as the 
Judge In a scene from The 
Winner, by Elmer Rice. 

Courtesy of Pix Incorporated. Photo by George Karger 

Jou must have been very serious about the theatre to join 
so many acting groups. 

F O'N. You have to be serious to get anyplace. Most of those in 
the American Negro Theatre were serious, even more so than 
a great number of professionals. The training program was 
complete, as it should be for every little theatre group. And 
it's worth noting that the people who taught acting, make-up, 
scenery construction, and so on, were all professionals, top 
people in their field. 

And with all that experience you still find it difficult to get 
a job? 



F OT\ T . It isn't easy for any actor to get a job. But it's more 
difficult for the young Negro actor. He has a very narrow 
choice of parts, slightly broader than it used to be, but not 
as broad by any means as it should be. 

At present 1 know of only nine Negro actors working in 
the Broadway legitimate theatre, 

Simply because there aren't enough pans for more? 

F O*N. That isn't the only reason. Producers could cast according 
to the requirement of a part, without regard to color. Some 
producers do. At the University of Wisconsin, for instance, to 
a great extent they cast according to ability and not color. 
But most producers have preconceived ideas about what parts 
should be played by Negroes, and some have strong and 
definite prejudices. 

So a Negro actor has plenty of difficulties to face? 

F O'N. Yes, he has the same difficulties as a white actor, plus all 
those that arise because of his color. He knows that on the 
road, for instance, he'll have difficulty finding hotel accom- 
modations. That's another thing that makes him hesitate. And 
he has less chance to learn his craft, for such knowledge 
comes mostly through doing. 

There's another thing, too. You know that many people 
used to regard the theatre as a snare of the Devil, a den of 
iniquity. That belief persisted for a long time also among my 
own people, who were very religious, and it kept many of 
our young people from thinking of the theatre as a profession. 
The subjects the theatre dealt with didn't do much to change 
their minds. The Negro background has been systematically 
excluded from the history and traditions of our country. You'll 
read in history books, for instance, that Lincoln freed the 
slaves, but you won't read that the slaves fought hard for 
their own freedom. Well, the theatre, like most other insti- 
tutions, paid little attention to the things that concerned our 
people. And Negroes weren't greatly interested in plays that 
dealt with problems that didn't concern them, or that had 
Negro characters only in the role of servants. 



So a Negro actor has to think about a lot of other things 
besides acting. 

F O*N. Yes, We have a Negro Actors Guild, which cares for sick 
and indigent Negro actors as part of the Theatre Authority 
set up by the Four A's to distribute funds. Various unions- 
American Guild of Variety Artists, Actors' Equity Association, 
Chorus Equity, and Television Authority have set up com- 
mittees to explore employment opportunities for Negroes. 
And Actors' Equity and Chorus Equity have arranged to meet 
the League of New York Theatres, and the Dramatists Guild, 
to discuss greater integration of Negroes in the legitimate 

We don't spend our time on these problems because we 
want to. We'd rather spend it learning and acting new parts. 
But the problems are forced on us, and we have no choice 
but to face them. 



WHEN A SHOW actually opens, the work of the author, the 
director, and the scene and costume designer is usually at an 
end. There are exceptions cases where the play has received 
a mixed press and the producer hopes to keep it running 
with the help of considerable revision. But in the normal 
course of events, whether the first night has been successful 
or not, the captains and the kings depart (the producer-god 
remains, of course), and their task is taken over by the stage 
manager, who supervises all the details of putting on the play. 

In a noncommercial group, the director and the others 
often will not depart, and will continue to work on a play for 
as long as it runs. Nevertheless, in every theatre there are a 
hundred details which they will relegate to others tasks which 
must be performed by members of the cast and the stage 
crew. In amateur groups, these tasks are all too often neg- 
lected. Actors forget to be on stage at the right time, props 
are misplaced, the wrong lights are turned on. Frequently 
these mishaps result from the fact that no one is responsible 
for seeing that they don't occur. 

In commercial productions, as in well-organized community 
theatres, there is no shirking this responsibility. It belongs to 
the stage manager, who must supervise the activities of the 
stage carpenters, electricians, and prop men as well as of the 
actors. Many duties, like prompting, will be relegated to an 
assistant. But even with assistance, the stage manager is still 
one of the busiest persons in the theatre. 

Stage managing is not simple. At present, the American 
Theatre Wing is conducting courses in it backstage of all the 
shows now running on Broadway. The theatre will soon have 
stage managers to spare. But in the past, the art has not been 
easy to learn. 


What a Stage Manager Does 


Some people including some producers think that 
a job of this sort requires a rough, touch approach 
that only a man can have. Ruth Mitchell, who as 
we write is stage manager of the Rodgers and 
Hammerstein musical The King and I 3 does not fit 
into this picture at all. She is pretty and petite, 
and we mistook her at first for a dancer in the 
show. But we quickly found that it was only half a 

RM. I did start out as a dancer and actress. But while I was 
in one show, the need for an assistant stage manager arose, 
and I volunteered. It meant only a small increase in salary 
at first, and the work was exhausting, as I kept my position 
as a dancer while learning my new job. However, Tm glad 
I did it, for it was the start of a whole new future. 

How does the average stage manager get experience? 

R M. Usually, the best place is in summer stock. But it isn't easy 
to get into Equity stage managing, you know, is part of 

What are your duties? 

RM. To keep up what the author, director, and the other artists 
have created. You work with them before the opening, so 
you know how things are done. You or your assistant notify 
the actors thirty minutes ahead of time, then fifteen minutes, 
and so on, finally warning them to be on stage with: "Places, 
please." You check the list of props, the things that are carried 
or used on stage, to see that they are in place. Usually, you 
and your assistant work on opposite sides of the stage, in 
order to check the exits and entrances on both sides. 

You re responsible too for seeing that the sets are in place 
and the costumes in order, although here the wardrobe mi$- 



Courtesy of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstem IL Photo by Zinn Arthur 
35. Jtutii Mitchell, stage manager of The King and I, standing to fne right 
of Yuf firynner as the King, and Constance Carpenter as Anna, during 
a feJiearsaf. 

tress has actual charge. When the show starts, you time each 
scene, and you indicate where cuts are needed in case the 
show runs overtime. 

YouVe in charge of the lighting. There's a lighting plot 
sheet to indicate the positions and intensities of all the lights, 
and you have to follow that. Sometimes the lighting is so 
complicated that you need a special assistant for that alone. 

You're responsible for giving the stage hands the cues 
for offstage noises. That too can be a full-time job, as it 
was in Mister Roberts, where there were hundreds of ship 
noises, voices over the microphone, and other sounds that 
had to come in at exactly the right times. 

You're busy from before the show starts until after it 
closes. AH sorts of accidents can happen-curtains can foul, 
scenery can be misplaced, etc. You have to see that, despite 



accidents, the show the audience watches runs smoothly. 
There's no time out during intermissions either, because you 
have to prepare for the next scene or act. 

Then, between shows, you conduct the rehearsals of under- 
studies, and you direct the new actors who come in as re- 
placements. If the top star is replaced, the original director 
may be caled back for a time, but otherwise the job of 
directing replacements is yours. 

Such work can be creative, to a certain extent. Moreover, 
you do have a chance to leam how others create. And if you 
have the ability, you can go on to become a producer, di- 
rector, or author, as some stage managers have done. 

You make sure that all absentees in the cast are replaced. 
Sometimes you may have to go on stage yourself. Equity 
doesn't allow a stage manager to act as understudy, although 
it does allow an assistant stage manager to do so. But in case 
of emergency, say, when you learn a minute or two before 
curtain time that an actor is ill, you're permitted to replace him. 

If any extra jobs turn up during the play, they're likely to 
be your responsibility. The cast of The King and I includes 
fourteen children and I'm the nursemaid. They make the 
show just as exciting for me as for the audience, especially 
when they outgrow their parts and have to be replaced. They 
bawl like babies at the thought of leaving. 

Are there any other executive fobs about the production that 
you havent mentioned? 

R. M. Well, there's the production stage manager, who works with 
the producer in pre-production work. And the company man- 
ager, who is the producer's business manager for the show. 
He makes up the payroll, and so on. But he has to do with 
the front of the house, and has no part in the staging of 
the show. 

Is stage managing especially difficult for a woman? 

RM. No. The only physical difficulty is in the number of hours 
you must put in. 


But there is stiE prejudice against women as stage managers? 

RM. Definitely. However, producers will overcome it if you con- 
vince them you can do the job. Stage managing isn't easy, 
but it's a necessary part of the show. And I feel that for me 
it's been worth while. 



THERE is AN OLD and cynical bit of advice which experienced 
critics have long given to new playwrights: if your words 
sound too silly to be said, have them sung. Nobody demands 
that the words of a song make sense. 

That, as we say, is a bit of cynicism. It twists the truth. 
It is true that many musical productions do not make a great 
deal of sense as a whole, and that therefore nobody expects 
the songs in them to be much better. Music of all kinds, 
however, finds a home in the theatre, not in order to hide 
the silliness of a playwright's words, but to produce an emo- 
tional effect which words alone might not have. The same is 
true of dancing. Before words can affect us, they must not 
only be seen or heard, but understood. Some of Hamlet's 
most eloquent lines mean nothing to a young student who is 
unfamiliar with the words Shakespeare used, or baffled by his 
poetic images. But music and dancing act much more di- 
rectly, and they have some emotional effect regardless of the 
degree of education of the spectator. 

If the music and dancing are used together with a play- 
wright's words, the emotional effect will be all the greater. 
That is why, from the earliest days of the theatre, they have 
been inseparable from drama, often being more important than 
the words themselves. Many of the Greek classics lose their 
effect upon us because the scripts we read cannot include the 
songs and dances that were so important in the original pro- 
ductions. And the same is true of scripts from Japan, China, 
and other countries. 

In Shakespeare's time, songs and dances had still another 
purpose. They were used to break up what audiences con- 
sidered the monotony of straight dialogue. Shakespeare's com- 
edies were interrupted by frequent airs and jigs. Some of the 
songs for which Shakespeare himself supplied words have come 
down to us. But there were many others which the actors 
added ad lib, of their own free will. And there are works of 



Moliere which contain entire ballets which have nothing to 
do with the play proper. 

In modem musicals like Oklahoma! or Bloomer Girl, the 
ballets, created by Agnes de Mille, are definitely part of the 
action. They contribute to the essential feeling of the play, 
and without them the performance would be incomplete. But 
in many of the older works, the Jigs, airs, and ballets need be 
left in only if there are highly skilled performers to do them. 
Otherwise they will hurt the production, and had better be 

You will find that the problems of combining music and 
dancing with the words of a play wiE face you in every kind 
of script. You can most obviously expect to meet them, of 
course, in a revue or musical comedy, where most of the per- 
formers may have to do less acting than singing and dancing, 
and will be chosen primarily for their abilities in these di- 

Now, even a high school of moderate size may have enough 
talented pupils to fill the cast of a musical production. Young 
pupils may lack the experience and polish of a cast of Broad- 
way professionals. But with careful coaching they can put on 
a good show. The records of the Thespian Society prove that 
each year many high-school groups throughout the country 
do perform to the satisfaction of large audiences. 

One of the danger spots of a high-school production, as 
of an amateur production generally, is likely to be the ac- 
companiment. On any stage, amateur or professional, you are 
always faced with the problem of a singer who will omit a 
word, line, or even an entire chorus. When that or some 
other emergency occurs, an accompanist dare not go right on 
playing his part, or chaos will result. To keep the show from 
falling apart, you will need to have a good musical director, 
who will sit in the orchestral pit before the stage, and keep 
an alert eye and ear on what is happening. The moment 
something goes wrong, he will signal the accompanist. 

A first-class pianist won't even need the musical director's 
signals. Hell hear what's happening, and follow every change 
the singer makes so skillfully that the audience won't even 
realize anything has gone wrong. A two-piano team, such as 
provides the accompaniment in the summer theatre, will have 
more trouble. And an orchestra will have to be very skilled 



indeed for every one of its members to get the musical di- 
rector's signals and respond to them correctly and without 

That is why the best form of accompaniment for the 
amateur stage is a single piano, played by a skilled performer, 
who should be at least as good a musician as any of the 
singers. Many high schools have such pianists, and they can 
add immeasurably to the success of a musical show. The 
musical director, usually a member of the faculty, will have 
to possess even more skill and experience. 

What sort of musical should an amateur group give? That, 
to a large extent, depends on the talents the group has 
available. Gilbert and Sullivan operettas have long been pop- 
ular with high schools, and so have the operettas of Victor 
Herbert and a few other composers. They make no great 
technical demands of the singers, but they do require pleasant 
and flexible voices, and Gilbert and Sullivan do call for a 
good sense of comedy. If properly performed, these operettas 
are almost uniformly entertaining. 

Sometimes a high-school group will find it possible to 
give an old musical comedy that was once popular on Broad- 
way. And occasionally it will be able to put on an original 
revue or musical written by its own members. You will find 
original musicals more often in colleges, where there are more 
students who have had the necessary training in writing and 
musical composition. But they have been given by a few high 
schools also. 

A musical production has special requirements in addition 
to the obvious ones of singers and dancers. The lighting is 
different from the lighting of an ordinary play. It is intended 
to convey much more the mood of a song or dance than the 
appearance of a place, and there is a greater use of spotlights 
to center attention on the performers. The sets and costumes, 
too, are different. Like the lighting, they are less realistic and 
more stylized. Their purpose is to provide striking and effective 
stage pictures, and, as Howard Bay has pointed out, they 
offer difficulties that other stage settings do not. In a revue, for 
instance, the designer must start each scene from scratch, 
without regard to the previous scenes. And it is not easy to be 
continually starting all over again. 

Some straight dramatic plays call for songs or dances as 



part of the plot. In a story dealing with a musician or dancer, 
music and dancing would be almost inevitable. In Death of 
a Salesman, on the other hand, none of the characters actually 
sings or plays a musical instrument. But there is a musical 
background which continues throughout the play and con- 
tributes greatly to the emotional effect produced by the words 
and action. No performance of Death of a Salesman would be 
complete without this music. 

In the examples we have considered, with the exception of 
some of the operettas, it is the play, and not the music or 
dancing, which is the main thing. If you sacrifice the play 
for the music, you will have an opera; if yotir play exists 
chiefly to provide a framework for the dancing, you will 
have a ballet or other form of dance which tells a story. Both 
opera and ballet are part of the theatre. We are not considering 
them here because they have special problems of their own, 
and are outside the limits we have set for ourselves in this book. 

There are some plays which have no songs or dances in 
them, and were written without any thought of a musical 
accompaniment. Even a play of this nature sometimes finds 
itself being acted to music. But you had better be careful of 
the kind of music you add. The movies long ago found out 
that a musical accompaniment should not distract the audi- 
ence's attention from the story itself. Music that is too power- 
ful and melodies that are too striking make us forget the action 
going on upon the stage, instead of centering our attention 
upon it. 

One of the things every dramatist learns is that no play 
consists merely of words. Not only what the actor says but 
what he does helps carry out the playwright's purpose. In fact, 
entire plays have been given in pantomime, with gestures and 
movements and bits of business, and possibly with sound ef- 
fects, but without a single word. In tie movies and on tele- 
vision you will find stretches two or three minutes long of 
action without words. And even in the living theatre, which 
cannot change scenes as rapidly as the movies and television 
can, you will find long and effective stretches of pantomime. 

Much of dancing is pantomime with the addition of stylized 
motion (as in the ballet, for instance). In order to increase the 
effect upon an audience, an actor not only approaches his 
stage enemy with a defiant expression on his face, but whirls 



around and then bounds into the air as he does so. A sane 
individual in real life is hardly likely to act that way. But the 
whirling and the bounding do help make clear to the audience 
what the character feels. And such methods are, after all, no 
more than exaggerated forms of the gestures and movements 
used in ordinary acting. 

For acting does not consist merely of gestures and move- 
ments borrowed from real life. What the actor does is intended 
to be seen or heard by an audience. On the street, a man may 
clench his fist so imperceptibly that none of the people around 
him notice it. Or his voice may tighten almost imperceptibly 
with the anger he feels. But no actor wants his stage emotions 
to go unnoticed. He will clench his fist in so conspicuous a 
fashion that the spectators in the back row are sure to see it. 
And his voice will make clear, to the best of his ability, that 
he is in a rage. 

What the actor ordinarily does, then, is to use exaggerated 
methods for the sake of appearing realistic. In music and 
dancing, he exaggerates still further and appears frankly un- 
realistic, for the sake of conveying genuine emotion. 

We have seen that voice and body training, such as the 
singer and the dancer undergo, are almost indispensable 
to the actor. The methods of the composer and choreographer 
can be similarly useful to the play director. Good dance com- 
position, for instance, involves not only the use of the dancer's 
body; it requires the proper utilization of the entire stage 
space. We talked about it to choreographer Zachary Solov, 
who had for the first time in the memories of most opera- 
goers made ballet at the Metropolitan Opera a spectacle 
worth watching. 

He pointed out that in order to get effective composition 
and variety, the choreographer must, even more than the 
play director, arrange his dancers carefully. He must balance 
left against right, upstage against down. Or he may set his 
dancers going in a circle. The director may do the same thing, 
in not so obvious a manner, when the effect he intends to 
create is that of a chase, either physical or emotional. 

There is another kind of movement which the chore- 
ographer frequently uses from one level to another. When he 
consigns his dancers to the floor level, they seem to be 
groveling near the earth; when they bound into the air or leap 



up onto a platform, the effect is one of spiritual reaching up. 
The rapid change from one level to another provides very 
effective movement. 

The stage director too can make good use of such move- 
ment. He can utilize steps and staircases and pieces of fur- 
niture, he can have a contrast between characters who are 
sitting and standing. In what is known as "plastic" staging, 
the set is designed with many different levels in order to 
emphasize the possibility of up and down movement. 

Ther^ are times when it becomes difficult to say whether 
the actors are singing and dancing or not. When you chant 
your lines, as you may in a Greek play, you are already 
halfway between speech and song. When you rush wordlessly 
from one side of the stage to the other to express a kind of 
frustrated despair, your movements will not be "natural/* 
They will be carefully stylized, in the manner of dance. 

It becomes clear, then, that at least the elements of song 
and dance are present in every play, no matter how "straight." 
Singing and dancing, which were so conspicuous a part of 
the theatre in the beginning, may sometimes be less notice- 
able now. But they can no more be banished from it than 
can acting itself. 


The Composer in the Theatre 


A musical comedy stands or falls as much by its 
music as by its comedy. And just as there are few 
first-class actors who can play a comic scene for all 
it is worth, there are few top-notch composers who 
can write well for the stage. One exception is 
Leonard Bernstein. Still a young man, Mr. Bern- 
stein has not only written the music for such 
Broadway successes as On the Town and Wonder- 
ful Town, but has composed in a more serious 
vein (notably the Jeremiah Symphony and his 
second symphony, The Age of Anxiety). He has 
done the music for Fancy "Free and other outstand- 
ing ballets, has conducted all our leading orches- 
tras, and has appeared with many of them as piano 
soloist. Mr. Bernstein is, for Broadway or for that 
matter, anywhere an extraordinarily accomplished 
musician, and we wondered whether that might 
not be regarded as a handicap by people who 
think a composer for the commercial theatre 
shouldn't know too much. 

Does training in musical composition help you to write better 
musical comedies? How much do you really need to know 
about music to write for Broadway? 

LB. The more training a composer has, the better equipped he is. 
Of course, at present the musical comedy is still, for all its 
sophistication, in a fairly primitive state, and there is a division 
of labor in writing the music. You can get away with being 
a composer on Broadway without knowing how to harmonize 
a simple tune. All you must be able to do and that requires a 
great gift is to compose the tune. Some of the highest-paid 
composers on Broadway can do no more than pick out their 
melodies at the piano. But after them comes a host of busy 
beavers, who take those melodies over. They do a lot of hard 
work harmonizing, arranging, orchestrating. As musicians 
they're much more skilled than the official composer. A good 
many of them, in fact, are frustrated composers themselves. 
But although they are fairly well paid, they receive little or no 



Courtesy of Wonderful Town Company. Photo by Vandamm 

36. Rosalind Russell held a/off by members of the Brazilian Navy in a 
scene from the musical comedy Wonderful Town. 

credit. And yet they're the ones who give the composer's 
simple tunes the texture, the color, the richness, that make 
it worth listening to. 

Personally, I like to do every phase of the music myself. 
I had time for that with On the Town, for which I did every- 
thing but the orchestration of the songs. Wonderful Town 
was more of a rush job, and the arrangements of songs and 
ballets had to be done by others. Of course they were well 
done, but I still prefer to handle all the music myself. 

I think that when we finally get a school of American 
opera it will have its roots not in the European opera, which 
so many of our composers imitate, but in our own musicals. 
And the better the composer is equipped, the better for the 
future of the musical theatre. 



To what extent is the knowledge of theatre helpful in writing 
music for the theatre? 

LB. To the fullest extent. At present, knowledge of the theatre 
Is more Important for the musical-comedy composer than Is 
musical knowledge, He has to know what kind of music is 
necessary and where. And no amount of dramatic knowledge 

can replace the dramatic seme, which you either have or 
don't have. 

How do you put all this knowledge to work, Mr. Bernstein? 
Which comes first, the music or the words? 

L B. Every team works in a different way. It depends on whether 
the book- writers are also doing the lyrics. When I worked 
with Betty Comden and Adolph Green on On the Town, we 
did it the hard way, all of us working together on everything. 
That may take a little longer, but it's more flexible, and the 
results are worth it. Usually, however, the lyricist writes the 
lyrics first and the music is then set to them. Jerome Kern, on 
the other hand, used to compose the music first, and the 
lyrics would be written to fit. To some extent it's a matter of 
personal preference, and to some extent it's a question of 
working according to a standard blueprint. 

There is a cut-and-dried way for musicals to be born, and 
the formula has lasted for a long time. There's a rhythm song, 
a ballad, a ballet, etc., each set in its formula position in the 
play. One of the rules of the theatre has been not to have a 
ballad or a slow song near the end of the show, because after 
sitting for a couple of hours the audience is supposed to be 
too tired and restless to listen. But that formula can be broken, 
and, more and more, musical writers and composers are 
moving away from all mechanical formulas. 

Isnt there a danger, Mr. Bernstein, of breaking with formulas 
too fast, of getting away from what audiences are used to, 
and being too highbrow? 

LB. If you're highbrow in the wrong way, if you're heavy or 
pompous, or pretentious, of course the audience won't like it. 
I'm not for being highbrow on purpose. The lightness or 



seriousness of the music should depend on the nature of the 
musical play. The distinction of the music must be in the 
handling of it. 

Does the composer have any say as to where a song would 
be most effective, or is the decision just put up to the 
writers of the book? 

L B. Of course he has a say. A show is a co-operative effort. There 
must be constant conferences among writers, choreographers, 
and composers. Everyone must have something to say about 
the final results. 

Does the composer present the choreographer with music 
and just say: "Create a ballet"? Or is it done the other 
way around? 

LB. The ballet is also a mutual effort. Sometimes the choreog- 
rapher has more to say. She or he will tell the composer, "I 
need about thirty seconds of fast music, forty seconds of love 
music/' and so on, but that makes it very difficult for the 
composer, and there are cases when the music comes first 
and the dancing is fitted to it. Composing for the theatre and 
ballet is a complicated business of give and take. 

How can youngsters interested in musicals get into the field? 
Thousands of songs are written each year, many of them 
tuneful and catchy. How can you tell what will be a hit? 

L B. If a youngster has an exceptional talent, hell become known. 
But it may take time. If you are unknown, it is next to im- 
possible to get a hearing at a song publisher, and I advise 
young people not to fall for the ads which promise publication 
on a small fee. You may have to spend years just trying to 
get your songs heard. And the situation is complicated by the 
fact that the success of a song doesn't depend just on its 
being good. It may be the result of a special publicity cam- 
paign, of a tie-in to some public event, or of some quirk of 
public taste that nobody could predict. 

That's why when a young song-writer comes to me and 
shows me what he has written, I may think that the songs are 



pretty bad, but I won't say, "Forget about them, don't waste 
time trying to sell them, you'll never be a success." He may 
be a success. Some very bad songs have become hits, and I'm 
not prophet enough to predict where the lightning will strike 

What types of musicals do you think a school should put on? 

Will youngsters learn more from their own original work, 
or from producing an established work? 

LB. If there's enough talent available, originals are more fun. 
On the other hand, inexperienced youngsters can learn by 
doing already established musicals. Because there are larger 
casts than in dramatic plays, a musical can involve a large 
part of a class and all students will learn a good deal about 
music, timing, rhythm, dancing, and singing a song. And, 
what is even more important, they'll be involved in a large- 
scale co-operative effort where they will learn to know one 
another better and find out how to work together. That's some- 
thing they have to know, no matter what else they do. 


in the 


Ever since Agnes de Mille did the choreography for 
Oklahoma!, balet has been a part of musical 
comedy. Before that there had been time-steps, 
kicks, and standard dance routines most of them 
serving the same purpose as the pistol shots and 
firecracker explosions with which some comedians 
liked to awaken their audiences, and having no more 
claim to being art. Miss de Mille's ballets were 
lively, they didn't let the audiences fall asleep, and 
wonder of wonders, they were also art. They made 
those who watched them realize how essential a 
part of a play dancing could be, and left behind 
them dissatisfaction with the emptiness of the old 

But the dances for Oklahoma! are only a small 
part of Miss de Mille's creative work. She has also 
choreographed Bloomer Girl, Carousel, and such 
successful ballets as Rodeo and Fall River Legend. 
In all her dance work, as well as in her autobi- 
ographical book Dance to the Piper, there is evident 
a warmth of human feeling not easily matched on 
our stage. It is a warmth that audiences recognize 
and respond to. 

How are these feelings expressed in gesture and movement? 
Do you express them the same way in a separate ballet as 
in a revue or musical? 

AdeM. There's a profound difference. In a revue the dancing 
has to startle and amuse an audience which doesn't want to 
be serious, which wants only to relax and watch something it 
can easily understand. In a musical you're less restricted 
in mood, but you're working with a book show and the dancing 
has to fit into the story. You have to deal with characters, 
costumes, and a set which are designed frequently for pur- 
poses other than dancing. Often you have to illustrate a song. 
In a ballet of your own the theatre is all yours. 

In a musical I try to keep my patterns simple, direct, formal, 
and brisk. In fact, I can't help trying, for some one is always 



putting a pistol to my head. Cut out three minutes of this 
dance, eliminate the most important section of that, throw 
out this one altogether. You have so little time to create the 
effects you want that you have to eliminate any gradual 
approach. Ballet for musicals is a compromise form, but 
sometimes a compromise* can be very good. The very nature 
of the restrictions makes for compactness, and forces you to 
express a great deal in little time. 

Do you aim chiefly to express a mood, or to advance the story? 

L de M. I generally have both kinds of dancing. I like the dancers 
to be characters in the play. I try to develop them. In the 
old ballets, gesture was based on the classic technique, the 
only exception allowed being in comedy. The new chore- 
ographers try to evolve the gestures from the characters and 
the situation. That isn't easy, and it may take me weeks of 
hard and lonely work, and great quantities of strong tea, be- 
fore I even begin to work out the pattern of the dances. From 
the beginning I see my characters in color and costume, but 
I spend hours of thinking and moving before I'm sure of how 
any one of them will walk, stand, or gesture. I don't start 
on rehearsals until I have a fairly good idea of how the whole 
composition wiU look, and have made diagrams to help me. 
Rehearsals of a new ballet aren't like rehearsals of a musical 
composition, which is finished once it's put down on paper. 
I have to continue creating, now using the bodies of the 
dancers to experiment with. Good dancers are wonderful. They 
not only help create, they take part in the creation themselves, 
they invent gestures and movements, and they inspire you to 
invent. When you work with them, you're really collaborating. 
Nowadays, the demands a ballet makes on both chore- 
ographer and dancers are greater than ever. A good dancer has 
to be able to act while dancing, and you have to direct the 
acting too. The dance is no longer merely a pattern of move- 
ment, it must convey emotion to the audience. But you're 
paid for your troubles in the actual performance. Once the 
conductor raises his baton, the whole show moves into a dif- 
ferent dimension, without benefit of trick cameras or a wide 
screen. It doesn't matter whether a dance is good or not, 



Courtesy of The Theatre Guild. Photo by Graphic House 

37. A scene from fhe ballet in Oklahoma!, by Richard Rodgers 
and Oscar Hammerslein II, choreography by Agnes a*e Mllle. 

there's a dynamic change from the moment it begins, and the 
straight actors suffer from the contrast. 

Has the quality of the dancers in musicals changed much 
since Oklahoma! ? 

AdeM. The dancers are totally different. And so are the singers. 
You no longer have chorus girls who can barely carry a tune or 
perform the simple steps you show them. You have trained 
singers and dancers. The latter have graduated from the 
ballet and done modern dancing as well. A chorus girl of 
the old type, who could do no more than a time step and a 
break, couldn't get a job. 

Now that we no longer have lines, size doesn't matter, 
within reason. Looks matter more, but not so much as they 



once did. A girl should be healthy, fresh, and sweet-looking, 
a boy manly. A dancer needs talent and training. A choreog- 
rapher won't insist on experience. Dancers have to be young, 
from sixteen or seventeen to twenty-five or six, and by the 
time they get their experience, they'll be finished as dancers, 
unless they have enough talent to become stars. 

One thing a choreographer does look for is ability to work 
with people. The choreographer's own work is difficult and 
nerve-racking and he doesn't want a girl who sulks, has hys- 
terics, is dependent on her mother, or starts quarrels in the 
company. He wants someone who knows her business which 
is dancing and will work her best at it. 

When youve choreographed a ballet and you re forced to use 
a replacement who has less skill, can you simplify the danc- 
ing without losing much of the effect? 

A de M. I frequently have dancers with limited technical ability. 
But I can't take a role that's tailored for one person and 
transfer it to another individual. It goes beyond technical 
skill. Character is all-important, the gestures flow from that, 
and if a dancer, for whatever reason, can't repeat the gestures 
as well as the facial and bodily expressions that go with her 
part, if she has to substitute different gestures and expres- 
sions, she's at the same time substituting a different character. 
That's why, if in a modern ballet you replace one performer 
by another in an important role, you usually change the en- 
tire effect not only of that single role, but of the entire ballet. 

What happens to your work. Miss de Mille, when the musical 
goes on tour? Does it suffer from the changes in the size of 
the stage? 

A de M. I have to use the space that the scene designer marks on 
the floor. Space limitation can be just as heartbreaking as time 
limitation, and can change the ballet completely. I lost a 
quarter of my best work in Carousel because of that. But 
once your dances are set, touring won't change them. Most 
theatres have fairly large stages, and if the scenery fits in 
them, there'll be enough space for dancing. 

Sometimes a show suffers on tour, just as it does on Broad- 



way when it has a long ran, and the actors and dancers fall 
into a rut. But the cure for that is simply to insist on the 
original high standards. The stage manager and producer must 
keep the company on its toes. The mere fact that the show is 
on tour isn't responsible for its getting worse. 

What type of movements would you suggest as best for inex- 
perienced dancers who want to learn, say for the purpose of 
putting on a high school musical comedy? 

A de M. They should learn folk and square dancing, with a good 
teacher. A folk dance has been tested by audiences over a 
period of generations, and you can be sure that if it is still 
danced, it works. Dancers and choreographers can both learn 
from it. It forms the basis of much modern work, certainly 
of my own. Folk dancing gives beautiful movement, and once 
a dancer has learned folk dances, he can go on with confi- 
dence to other forms of dancing. 

A dancer who intends to work professionally should also 
study ballet for the placing of the spine and legs and feet 
always with a qualified teacher. But I'd advise anyone who 
planned to become a professional dancer to think not twice 
but a hundred times before starting in. The difficulties are 
overwhelming, the disappointments heartrending. Even when 
you get to what so many people think of as "the top," you 
can't rest there. There's always the danger of making one mis- 
take and sliding down. And women have to face special dif- 
ficulties when they look for work as directors and choreog- 

When you overcome the difficulties, you have a wonder- 
ful feeling. But to most young people, I'd say that the way to 
enjoy the dancing in musical comedies most is from the au- 
dience, and not from behind the footlights. 



The Theatre 

EACH BKOADWAY SEASON brings before the public several young 
performers who prove that acting can be child's play. It is 
true that not every child of school age can act with profes- 
sional ease. But with proper training and capable direction, 
most children can do very well, as an occasional grammar- 
school class will show. The real difficulty that young children 
face is in finding scripts that are suited to their needs and 
abilities scripts neither too foreign to their interests on the 
one hand, nor too cute and cloying on the other. As it is, 
grammar-school children do manage to put on tens of thou- 
sands of plays. They are less self-conscious than, and as good 
as, many adult groups who do plays and skits in Parents* 
Associations, YMCA's, YMHA's, and clubs. 

On a more ambitious level than young children are many 
of the high-school groups. Of approximately twenty-five thou- 
sand high schools in this country (we owe this and the other 
estimates and information concerning high schools to the kind- 
ness of Mr. Leon C. Miller, Executive Secretary-Treasurer of 
the National Thespian Society), slightly more than half, pos- 
sibly fifteen thousand, may produce a play now and then. 
Vocational, technical, and rural high schools are too ill- 
equipped to grasp often at the glamour of the stage. Of the 
fifteen thousand play-producing schools, possibly one-third 
cannot meet the standards of the Thespian Society. Of the 
others, approximately twelve hundred and fifty are at the 
present writing enrolled in the national organization. 

Working under great difficulties, many high schools prefer 
to give one-acters, rather than full-length plays. During a 
school year, the Thespian troupes put on approximately twice 
as many productions of one-act as of full-length plays. Some, 
however, present a full evening of one-act plays in order to 
give more students a chance to perform. Relatively few schools 
have as many as four full-length productions per season. Most 
manage two or three, and some can give only a single per- 



38. A scene from The Wfns- 
iow Boy, by Terence Rattlgan, 
produced by fne Sosse High 
School Thespians of fyons- 
y/7/e, Indiana. 

Courtesy of The National Thespian Society 

formance, Some schools also put on operettas, revues, and 

Good full-length plays written especially for teen-agers 
are hard to find. For the most part the schools rely for their 
major productions on past Broadway hits, chiefly comedies, 
like You Cant Take It With You and Arsenic and Old Lace, 
and a few more serious plays, like Our Town and Pride and 
Prejudice. Classics, if given at all, are given rarely, either be- 
cause they are considered too difficult, or because the taste 
for them has been killed. 

Few high-school teachers have the time to establish con- 
tacts with college and professional theatres. In most cities, 
high-school theatre is extracurricular, and the play director 
may teach anything from chemistry and mathematics to his- 
tory or English during the day. Very few high schools have a 
dramatic arts department. 



The scenery Is usually made in the school workshops. But, 
according to Mr. Miller, only a few schools have elaborate 
lighting systems. Border lights and footlights are standard 
equipment, and only within the past twenty years are spot- 
lights being commonly used. A large percentage of the high- 
school auditoriums do not have even old-fashioned resistance 
dimmers, let alone electronic dimmers. In such auditoriums. 
a light is either on or off, and there is little chance for the 
creation of subtle or complicated lighting effects. 

For these high schools, the National Thespian Society, with 
its magazine Dramatics, and its newsletters, is their chief 
contact with the theatre. 

Some of the secondary schools in large cities are better 
equipped, and receive more support from the local school 
authorities for their study of dramatic activities. For informa- 
tion about them, we spoke to Christine Edwards, one of the 
few teachers who have had extensive experience in the pro- 
fessional theatre. Miss Edwards is Chairman of the Depart- 
ment of Speech and Dramatics at Prospect Heights High 
School in Brooklyn, and teaches television and the psychology 
of speech at Hunter College. She has acted and staged plays 
in many theatres, as well as in radio and television, and the 
stars she has directed include Edith Atwater, Marlon Brando, 
John Loder, and Margaret Wycherly. 

She has found excellent dramatic groups in many schools 
in the West. But she is most familiar with the school system 
in New York City. Here, she points out, there are special 
opportunities for students interested in the theatre. Not only 
is there a High School of Performing Arts. The Board of Edu- 
cation itself conducts a radio station, WNYE, and different 
schools put on radio plays in competition on a weekly pro- 
gram called Drama Time. The best students are selected to 
attend the all-city workshop conducted under the supervision 
of James F. Macandrew. 

Miss Edwards herself teaches classes in acting and speech, 
which are accepted in the curriculum as replacements for the 
more usual courses in English. From the beginning, students 
of acting are carefully taught technique by means of the Stan- 
islavsky method. They learn to develop their imagination, to 
get at a character from within. After the first term, they act in 
scenes from plays. As a rule, the students who are cast in the 



39. A high-school stage crew 
of Parkersbwg, Wesf Virginia, 
puffing up a set 

Courtesy of The National Thespian Society 

play for the school year come from these classes. A call for a 
general audition usually results in few volunteers from students 
outside the classes. 

The acting classes are of the same size as others, with 
from thirty to thirty-five students in each. After the elemen- 
tary classes, many students drop out, especially those who 
had no intention of becoming actors in the first place, but 
began their studies for other reasons. There are, therefore, 
fewer advanced classes. By the time a student reaches one of 
these, Miss Edwards knows his or her capabilities fairly well, 
and finds it simpler to cast the play. 

How does she choose the play? "In consultation with the 
principal and the students," she said. "Every director usually 
has a list of pet plays, those that seem most enjoyable and 
instructive. One of mine is Icebound, a Pulitzer Prize winner 
by Owen Davis. But it isn't just a question of what I want, 
but of what the students want too. I had them read it aloud, 
and they liked it. And when the principal approved, we went 
ahead with it." 



Courtesy of The National Thespian Society 

40. A rehearsal scene from Katherine and Petruchlo at Central 
Catholic High School, Canton, Ohio. 

Students might do single scenes from Shakespeare and 
other classics, but she felt that an entire Shakespearean play 
was too difficult. It takes long experience and great skill for 
an actor to speak the lines without losing either their music 
or their meaning. 

The time needed to prepare a single play is from October 
or November to May. A period of four months may be con- 
sidered a minimum. The ideal method, Miss Edwards feels, 
would be to have the play studied by a class for some time 
before the tryouts, with groups of students concentrating on 
different aspects of the play on the historical period during 
which the action takes place, on the reasons for conflict, the 
nature of the characters, and so on. In practice, there is not 
enough time for this. 

Rehearsals take place three or four times a week, often to 



six o'clock, and occasionally into the evening, Sometimes 
they are held on Saturdays and during Easter week. In some 
schools the students taking part in a three-act play receive 
credit toward their diplomas, and if they work long beyond 
school hours on certain days need not come in early the next 
morning. This is not true of most schools, however. 

A good student production, well managed, may make a 
fair amount of money for the school's general organization 
fund, and benefit the entire student body. For that matter, a 
faculty performance can be equally good box-office. Miss Ed- 
wards put on one faculty production in which the leading 
role was played by the previous principal, a woman nearing 
seventy and almost at the point of retirement. Her acting was 
sensational and the show was a smash hit. 

The big problems in high-school productions are connected 
with the physical nature of the stage and auditorium. Fire laws 
are strict and must be observed. Few high-school auditoriums 
have direct exits to the street. Lacking such exits, they must 
have either an asbestos curtain or a sprinkler system. The 
flats and drapes should be fireproofed. 

Miss Edwards feels that one of the great opportunities a 
high-school play offers is for co-operation among students, 
parents, and faculty. Both the art and the manual training 
departments are of great help in the construction of sets. The 
music department can supply the singers or instrumentalists 
needed for a musical production. And girls from the sewing 
classes can help make some of the costumes. 

Sometimes special costumes can be borrowed from the 
faculty or parents. Miss Edwards has found both groups very 
helpful in contributing to the success of a play. She suggests 
that notices of articles needed be posted on the bulletin board 
far ahead of time. She has had luck in picking up old chairs, 
rugs, and other furnishings by combing the neighborhood. 

Co-operation can also be carried beyond the limits of a 
single school. An all-boy or all-girl school working alone is 
limited by the fact that there are few good plays which call 
for all-male or all-female casts. And it is psychologically 
inadvisable for girls to play male roles, or vice versa. The two 
schools working together can put on a much wider variety 
of plays, and can combine their talents in such skills as sewing 
and carpentry. 



Miss Edwards finds that with a cast of students who 
have been taught the technique of acting before actually be- 
ginning work on the play, good performances can be ob- 

In addition to the play put on by the dramatic class, the 
high school may also do a senior class play, and a play to 
celebrate the holiday seasons. It is not until the students ac- 
tually begin to work on such plays that they realize how much 
they can gain in a knowledge of English, speech, ability to 
co-operate, and even in emotional stability. In this last re- 
spect, psychologists have long recognized the value of the 
theatre, and Miss Edwards has given classes in therapeutic 
dramatics for emotionally disturbed children and teen-agers. 

Educators have found dramatic classes to be instructive. 
Students find them to be fun. High schools would benefit 
from more of them. 


The University Theatre 

FROM THE HIGH-SCHOOL to the university theatre is a great 
step. College and university theatres are staffed with full- 
time teachers and are in many ways on a professional level 
They often have advantages that commercial producers envy. 
Many have specially constructed buildings, more elaborate 
and more suited for play production than most Broadway 
theatres. And there is no profit-consuming rent to pay. Their 
equipment too is usually modem and complete. George Freed- 
ley, who has made a special study of the college and com- 

Courtesy of Yale University. Photo by Commercial Pholo Service 

41. A scene from Children of the Ladybug, by Robert Thorn, as presented 

by the Yale University Department of Drama. 



munity theatres, estimates that eighty per cent of university 
theatres have equipment which equals or surpasses that of 

Because the intention o the universities is to teach, the 
student actors, directors and designers receive no payment. 
Instead, they pay to learn. Here again the Broadway producer 
has reason for envy, for his constant complaint is that what 
profits the high theatre rents leave are eaten up by wages and 

Do the college and university theatres make proper use of 
the advantages they have? Many of them do. They produce 
not only popular plays, but good plays that have for some 
reason or other missed popularity. Some of them welcome new 
plays that are not "commercial." Others experiment with new 
methods that Broadway is often reluctant to try. 

A few universities operate more than one theatre. The 
University of Washington School of Drama, for instance, has 
not only a Playhouse, but a Showboat Theatre and a Pent- 
house Theatre. The latter was the first theatre in the world to 
be built purely for arena-style production, and its long years of 
experiment with production-in-the-round preceded the present 
popularity of this form of theatre. 

The Baylor (University) Theatre in Waco, Texas has pre- 
sented a wide variety of great plays, from Shakespeare to 
Oscar Wilde. It has devoted time to such classics as Carlo 
Goldonf s comedy The Mistress of the Inn, which it presented 
in the season of 1946-1947. Goldoni is played in Europe, and 
his comedies are full of life and humor even by our own tastes 
but it is a long time since he has had a hit on Broadway. 

University theatres axe usually alike in not having to worry 
too much about the box office. But in other respects they 
differ greatly from one another and from the commercial 
theatres. Let us take a good look at one that has some rather 
atypical advantages and see how it operates. 

The Columbia University Theatre, as we learned from Dr. 
Milton Smith, professor of dramatics, derives considerable ad- 
vantage from being near Broadway. In putting on its plays, 
it sometimes has access to professional talent that the average 
university theatre cannot reach. A Broadway actress may take 
a difficult part, a graduate of the school who has become a 
professional designer may do the scenery. Many of the stu- 



dents themselves have played on the professional stage, usually 
with road companies. Columbia is therefore in an especially 
favorable situation, and as a result it can occasionally put on a 
better production of a given play than Broadway itself. 

The theatre does four or five major productions a year as 
a subscription season, and several laboratory productions. The 
major productions receive from five to ten performances each. 
Dr. Smith tries to choose scripts that pose interesting problems 
in acting, directing, and designing. 

The major productions are done in as close to a profes- 
sional manner as possible. Students who have never acted 
before have a chance to show what they can do in tryouts, 
which are much fairer than readings. Just as on Broadway, a 

Courtesy of Catholic University 

42. A rehearsal of Sing Out, Sweet Land, written and originally 
directed by Walter Ken for Catholic University. The play was 
later successfully produced on Broadway. 



Courtesy of Carnegie Institute of Technology. 'Photo by Daniel Franks 

43. A scene from an original play by student playwright Louis Adelman, 
presented by the Drama School of Carnegie Institute of Technology. 

player may turn out to be unstated to the role for which he 
has been selected, and may have to be replaced. In casting, 
Columbia, like any other university, is at a disadvantage com- 
pared with the professional theatre. A commercial producer 
has hundreds and thousands of professional actors from whom 
to choose. The university production has only a few dozen 
students. It is sometimes difficult, therefore, to find the right 
actor for a given part; 

Supplementary productions are done exclusively by the 
students, and are intended to give new people a chance to 
learn. These are open by invitation only. 

Because of casting difficulties and the limitation of re- 
hearsal time, the acting tends to be the weak point of a 
university production. At Columbia the students paint and 



build sets two nights a week and rehearse three nights. The 
total time spent on rehearsal is from a fourth to a Surd that 
spent on a Broadway play. In view of the relative inex- 
perience of most of the actors, this is a serious handicap. 

An actor who has spent years in the profession usually 
learns quickly how to deliver his lines with effect. A student 
actor must be told, and very often retold. A professional actor 
has learned to make his actions emphasize his words and 
vice versa. The student cannot as a rule do so, with the .result 
that his movements tend to be stiff, his words to sound stilted. 
Where the professional actor seems to be the character he is 
playing, the student seems to be only an actor. 

This is true chiefly of conventional situations, in which the 
professional is experienced. The presence of a few such actors 
in the cast makes the director's job much easier. He can trust 
many details to them and keep his eye on the main line of the 
play. But with novices he must teach while he directs. He 
must explain everything detail by detail. He must move the 
players carefully around the stage, making sure that they do 
not mask one another from the audience's view. The most 
apparently trivial oversight can lead to a loss of effectiveness 
in a scene. 

44. The performance over, 
student stagehands strike 
the set and take Inventory. 

Courtesy of Syracuse University. Photo by C. George Chapin 



The student will sometimes have an advantage, however, 
in plays whose situations are not stereotyped, plays in which a 
professional actor may ruin a scene by calling upon his bag 
of tricks. The student has no bag, or else a very small one, 
and he realizes that the few tricks he knows are not yet very 
effective. He will therefore be readier to explore the meaning 
of the play, to admit that a character baffles him, and to 
listen to the director. 

It is true that even if he does get the idea of the play, he 
cannot manage his voice and body with the perfect assurance 
that comes only from years of experience, and he may be 
unable to project this idea to the audience. But at least he will 
be less likely to act in a stereotyped manner. The plays of 
Ibsen baffled most of the commercially trained English actors 
of from half to three-quarters of a century ago. They could 

Courtesy of Catholic University . roow uy -410777 a., 

45. A scene from Oedipus the King as directed by Alan Schneider for 
Catholic University. 



not change from the bombastic style to which they were ac- 
customed to a quieter, more realistic manner. These plays 
still continue to baffle many of the actors who are lured into 
acting in them, simply because they are different from what 
most actors are used to. The student is not used to much of 
anything on the stage. He has a better chance of understand- 
ing Ibsen. 

In the university theatre, as in the theatre as a whole, the 
choice of a play is the difficult thing. There are always classics, 
but few actors want to perform in classics alone. The hit plays 
of some years back are soon dated, and young university 

46. Student stagehands at 
Syracuse University. 

Courtesy of ANT A. Photo by William M. Rjtlase 



actors, more ambitious and more critical than they were in 
high school, are often contemptuous of the taste of the older 
generation. The hit plays of a current season, on the other 
hand, are unavailable. University theatres sometimes fall back 
on plays in which a potential producer is interested. A com- 
mercial tryout would cost tens of thousands of dollars whereas 
a university tryout costs practically nothing. In order to see 
his play on the stage, a canny producer will therefore offer 
it to the university royalty-free. To make his gift seem even 
more alluring, he may possibly throw in a few costumes or 
props, or subsidize it in some other way. 

The students and director usually enjoy doing a new play 
which offers problems they have not solved before. They would 
enjoy it even more if they could put on plays that their 
audiences and producer-sponsors would consider good. Un- 
fortunately, few university theatres have been able to locate 
plays which can be transferred successfully to the commercial 

Nor do the universities seem able to incubate their own 
playwrights. Some years ago, Professor Baker's famous course 
in dramatic writing at Harvard turned out prominent authors 
ranging from Eugene O'Neill and Rachel Crothers to Philip 
Barry. But when Professor Baker transferred to Yale he had 
less success, and since his time the crop of university play- 
wrights has dwindled away. 

In other phases of the theatre, the universities are more 
successful. Their courses on speech, pantomime, the study of 
roles and scenes, and so on, have helped many fledglings to 
become professional actors. And their classes in stagecraft 
and design, as well as in business practices, have been of 
benefit to apprentice designers and producers. 

Unfortunately, no love is lost between the universities and 
many professionals. The close contacts between Columbia and 
Broadway are exceptional; in general, co-operation, although it 
is increasing, is still very limited. We have already noted, in 
some of our interviews, the harm this lack of relationship does. 
It sets a bar between the two kinds of theatre. And it in- 
tensifies the evils of inbreeding. Most professionals never think 
of teaching. And most teachers spend their entire careers at a 
few universities, without ever becoming part of the commer- 
cial theatre. There is a great deal missed by both sides. 



Courtesy of Stanford University 

47. A student performance of Richard III designed and directed by Dr. A. 
Nicholas Vardac of Stanford University. 

Perhaps another difficulty which the University theatre 
faces is the nature of its audiences. The success of a produc- 
tion, as we have noted, is not measured in money, and hence 
there is no worry about having the small auditorium filled. 
The students have enough friends and relatives to occupy a 
large proportion of the available seats, and people who live 
near the university take the others. The audiences are serious, 
sympathetic, and understanding perhaps too understanding. It 
is good to have an audience that will make allowances for 
student deficiencies but not too many. 

As it is, the universities deserve credit for one important 
thing they do it is they, along with a few community theatres, 
who keep the classics alive on the American stage. Most pro- 
ducers shy away from Shakespeare, Ibsen, Moliere, and Aeschy- 
lus as if those unfortunate gentlemen were internationally 
famous pickpockets, lying in wait to rob them of tens of thou- 



sands of dollars. The occasional exception who risks his shirt 
on King Lear or Hedda Gabler knows that he is almost sure 
to lose it, and is regarded by his fellow producers with the 
tender sympathy they reserve for a good man suddenly gone 

The university theatres, academic and cloistered as some 
of them may be, nevertheless have this virtue which cannot 
be too often stated: they do not have to choose their plays 
with the idea of making money. And when they look around 
for a script, they discover that many ancient works still seem 
a bit more alive than most of the material written for Broad- 

CourUsy of ANT A 

48. A Midsummer Night's Dream as sfagecf in the basketball pav/f/on in 
circus style by the University of Oregon's School of Drama. 



way during the first three or four decades of our own century. 
So they do Shakespeare, or Moliere, or even Euripides. 

And meanwhile, they do teach many students a great deal 
about the stage. Imperfect as they are, they can give excellent 
reasons for staying alive. 


The Summer Theatre 

IF YOU WANT TO begin your training for the stage in a summer 
theatre, one of the most useful props you can have is a hammer. 
This is not, as you might imagine, in order that you may 
practice knocking, and thus start on your way to becoming a 
critic. It is because, as an apprentice, you will be expected 
to do a little bit of everything and a great deal of one particu- 
lar thing putting up and tearing down sets. And as hammers 
are always getting lost, many summer theatre managers have 
decided to make you bring your own and take over the re- 
sponsibility of keeping track of it* 

Summer theatres are commercial theatres. Their number 
and number, to some extent, means importance far ex- 
ceeds the number of active Broadway theatres. On the At- 
lantic Coast alone, from Maine to North Carolina, there are 
approximately a hundred and twenty-five Equity companies 
and from twenty to twenty-five non-Equity companies (and 
we axe not counting all the hotel and camp groups which 
put on plays, without aspiring to the dignity of the name 

Through most of the 'twenties and 'thirties, the summer 
theatre was a stock theatre where a small resident company 
put on a series of plays throughout the season. The visiting 
star system is often supposed to have begun with the appear- 
ance of Basil Rathbone in 1925 in Dennis, Massachusetts. 
Actually., according to Lyman Brown, an authority on the 
subject, it had begun long before. By the 'thirties it was in 
full swing, and in the postwar period it flourished like the 
green bay tree, or like the rankest of weeds, and to a great 
extent displaced the older system. By now, visiting stars have 
become an almost indispensable part of the summer theatre. 

Summer theatres vary greatly in so many details that it is 
difficult to paint a single picture that will serve as a portrait 
of all of them. Perhaps we can make clearer some of the 
features in which they all differ from their year-round com- 



merclal brethren by centering our attention on one theatre 
and seeing how it works. 

The one we chose is the Sea Cliff Summer Theatre at Sea 
Cliff, Long Island, operated by Thomas G. Ratcliffe, Jr., and 
Louis Macmillan. The theatre building itself is a converted 
Methodist tabernacle. Its auditorium seats 599 people, the 
maximum permitted for this type of building by the New York 
State building code. It has no balcony or gallery, and is small 
enough so that no member of the audience needs opera glasses 
to see what is going on upon the stage. The stage itself is 
smaller than that of a Broadway theatre, but still large enough 
even for summer-theatre versions of musical comedies. 

The Wharf Theatre at Provincetown was started in a fish 
house, and other summer theatres have taken over large barns. 
The Sea Cliff Theatre has no odor of departed fish or cows 
to contend with. But as a penalty for being part of nature, it 
does have an occasional insect performer, such as a moth 
which seeks the spotlight in competition with the actors. 
There are not many, however. "Bug bulbs" light up the out- 
side of the theatre without luring insects from all over the 
surrounding countryside. And, fortunately, Sea Cliff is not af- 
flicted by the mosquitoes which have been known to attack 
other summer theatres. 

The apprentices number fifteen. Selected from about three 
times that number of applicants, they receive no wages and 
pay for their own room and board. They are here to learn 
about theatre, and they do, although at Sea Cliff there are no 
formal classes, as there are at one or two other theatres. 

Those theatres which offer classes charge a season tuition 
fee of from two to three hundred dollars, and do not have 
the apprentices as part of the regular company. The appren- 
tices put on plays separately. 

At Sea Cliff the auditorium is swept, after performances, 
by a paid employee. There are professional designers and 
professional box-office personnel. The ushering is done by Girl 
Scouts, who work for drama merit badges; a weekly donation 
for their services goes into a Girl Scout fund. Most of the 
other detailed work is done by the apprentices. They take 
phone orders for tickets, they construct sets, they take turns 
running the switchboard, handling props backstage, helping 



the stage manager, assisting the publicity man with releases, 
and so on. 

They also act, although not as often as they would like to. 
At the beginning of the season they are given a tryout which 
serves several purposes. It lets Mr. Ratcliffe see how well 
they can perform and some, he says, have considerable talent. 
It is also meant to make them realize how much they still 
have to learn, to instill a proper humility, and to make them 
satisfied to wield their hammers. It does have this effect on 
many of them. Others remain convinced, however, that they 
can do better than the regular actors, and sooner or later they 
have the chance to prove their beliefs. Before the season is 
ended, every apprentice will do at least a walk-on, and most 
will be given speaking parts. 

There are eight actors who have contracts for the season 
(the minimum prescribed by Equity is six). Almost all of them 
are hired on the basis of Mr. Ratcliffe's personal knowledge 
of their ability. From season to season he interviews a long 
procession of applicants. During the 1952 season, he saw three 
hundred. In these interviews there is time for the actor to 
give a brief resume of his experience and to show how he 
speaks and carries himself. Allowing fifteen minutes per in- 
terview, the total time spent in interviews alone is forty-five 
hundred minutes seventy-five hours. This cuts seriously into 
the manager's schedule, without giving the applicant a chance 
to show any real acting ability. Mr. Ratcliffe says that he 
feels it is his duty to give an actor a hearing, and no one 
who writes for an appointment is turned down. There are no 
auditions, however. Too many good actors give bad perform- 
ances at auditions, and too many bad actors read well the first 
time, and then fail to improve. 

The odds are against any actor's being hired unless the 
manager has a personal knowledge of how he has performed 
previously throughout an entire season. There are one or two 
fortunate exceptions each season, chosen usually on the basis 
of striking physical endowments, as well as of apparent acting 
talent. Apprentices, of course, have a better chance. More of 
them are hired, and the requirements are not so severe. 

The actors hired must have considerable all-around ability. 
While performing in one play, they may have to get ready 
for the next one. And sometimes they may have only one or 



two rehearsals in which to perfect the delivery of their lines 
and learn their stage business, and decide on how to work 
with an imported glamour girl and her leading man ( or a male 
star and his leading lady). 

These, and many other difficulties and complications^ re- 
sult from the visiting star system. Because the Broadway theatre 
is at so low an ebb, and because the movies are also cutting 
down on the number of pictures being produced, many stars 
whose names are box-office attractions find themselves at lib- 
erty during the summer. And because they want to act or at 
least appear on a stagealmost as much as they want to 
breathe and sign autographs, they look around for a play to 
suit their talents. Most of the time this is an old hit which they 
would like to revive; occasionally it is a new play which a pro- 
ducer would like to see tried out at little cost. 

Let us suppose that the manager of the Patamisquam Play- 
house, situated near the imaginary (we hope) village of Pat- 
amisquam, Massachusetts is willing to revive the one-time 
hit The Great Love, with Janine Smith as star. The Great Love 
will then undergo a week of intensive rehearsal. Janine, who is 
paid for only that single week of learning her part, prefers 
not to let things drag. But if another week of rehearsal 
is absolutely necessary, then, in view of the fact that all re- 
hearsals must be paid for. Janine will accept half her usual 
salary for each of the two weeks. As star salaries range from 
seven hundred and fifty to three thousand dollars a week, 
even a half-salary is far above the Equity minimum. 

The dress rehearsal takes place on Sunday night, and is 
likely to be just as discouraging as a dress rehearsal of a 
Broadway production. There has been so great a rush in put- 
ting the play together that loose ends seem to turn up every- 
where. These cannot all be tied together before the first per- 
formance on Monday night, and during the first day or two 
the Patamisquam audiences may be viewing a rather slipshod 
performance of The Great Love. But by Wednesday, many 
difficulties have been ironed out. The actors are sure of their 
lines and business, the backstage crew is working with greater 
calm and efficiency. The Thursday matinee serves as another 
run-through, and from then on the audience sees a good show. 

In the meantime, next week's production of The Great Hate 
has begun rehearsal and is almost ready. But Janine Smith 



does not wait around to see how the new play turns out. After 
her Saturday night performance, she packs her trunks and 
departs for another summer theatre, and the beginning of a 
tour in The Great Love that will last for several weeks. 

The next theatre may be the Sea Cliff. Here the produc- 
tion of The Great Love will present fewer problems. Janine 
already knows her part, and she is likely to be touring with a 
leading man or two leading men who also know their parts. 
It is only the supporting roles that have to be cast from the 
actors of the Sea Cliff company. 

These actors will do their rehearsing at Sea Cliff, perhaps 
while appearing in Love and/or Hate, without seeing Janine 
Smith in her play at all. On Sunday, however, Janine makes 
her appearance with her leading men, there are one or two 
quick run-throughs of those sections of the play in which the 
Sea Cliff actors appear, and then a dress rehearsal on Sunday 
night as usual. And on Monday night, the Sea Cliff theatre 
presents Janine Smith in The Great Love. 

This system is a hectic one for all concerned. Janine may 
have to undertake a difficult role with insufficient prepara- 
tion and master it as she goes along. The Sea Cliff actors must 
be quick and versatile. They must be able to learn new roles 
in The Great Love while playing eight shows during the week 
in Love and/or Hate, and they must be able to adapt their 
acting at the last moment to the requirements of the star. 
The managers of the theatre must continue producing Love 
and/ or Hate while getting ready to produce The Great Love, 
and while making plans for the still more distant future, which 
will see the appearance of other stars in Oh, Love! and Oh, 
Hate! and still other revivals. 

Scenery does not go on tour. The apprentices at Sea Cliff 
build and put up a new set each week, making full use of 
their fifteen hammers. 

The summer theatres, like the all-year-round commercial 
theatres, continually work under the shadow of financial dis- 
aster. At Sea Cliff, the weekly expenses, excluding the sal- 
aries of the visiting star and her cohorts, amount to $5,000. 
Twenty years ago this would have been more than enough to 
keep a play running on Broadway. A highly paid star may 
raise the level of expenses to more than $8,000. In the face of 
such high costs, a heat wave or a rainy week end which keeps 



the audience away from the box office will leave the theatre 
with a disastrous loss. 

Nowadays, Broadway producers, in trying to keep their 
costs to a minimum, do the same thing with their casts, and 
are always on the lookout for two- or three-character plays. 
But the summer theatres, with all their actors and apprentices 
anxious to act, can offer less skimpy casts. And in case a play 
calls for additional performers children, a minister, a chief 
of police, etc. these can be picked up wherever convenient. 
The actors and the business staff can among them manage 

Courtesy of Seacliff Summer Theatre, Long Island. Photo by ]. Peter Happel 

49. Kim Hunter, Art Smith, and Robert Emmett in a scene from 
They Knew What They Wanted, by Sidney Howard, as per- 
formed at the Seacliff Summer Theatre. 



to supply a reasonable number of children o various ages. 
Other characters can be enlisted from the local residents. A 
work permit must be secured from Equity at a cost of five 
dollars (paid by the theatre). But the temporary actor does 
not usually demand a salary. He is sufficiently rewarded with 
the honor" of being permitted to act before an audience. 

In former years, an Equity rule required any apprentice 
who appeared in three parts during a single season to become 
a member if he wanted to go on acting. The chief result of 
this rule was to swell the number of unemployed actors with 
Equity cards, and it was therefore changed. Now an appren- 
tice is permitted to act any number of times during his first 
season. If he acts in three parts during the second season, 
however, possibly at a different theatre, he must become a 
member of Equity. An Equity card, however, does not assure 
him of a job. This new rule makes things more difficult for the 
youngster who is merely stagestrack, but it is no great ob- 
stacle to the talented youngster who is determined to get 
ahead in the theatre. 

When a musical is put on, the pool of talent among actors 
and apprentices, even with local help, no longer suffices. In 
a musical, practically every member of the cast must be able 
to sing or dance, and the original producers of Love Me or 
Hate Me! will usually send the complete summer company on 
tour, leaving possibly three or four acting roles to be filled by 
the Sea Cliff company. The slight difficulty that this drives 
expenses up even higher than usual bothers no one but the 

A few summer theatres, the "music circuses," put on noth- 
ing but musicals. Sea Cliff provides its accompaniment to the 
singers with two pianos. But the music circuses have small 
orchestras, and the members of their companies are chosen 
not only for acting talent but for appearance, and singing 
and dancing ability as well. Like other theatres-in-the-round, 
the music circuses are faced with special problems in staging, 
some of which we discuss in the chapter on "Music and 
Dancing in the Theatre/' The expenses of putting on musicals 
on Broadway are terrifying, but the music circuses have solved 
this problem fairly well from their own point of view, and, 
although their number is still small, it seems to be increasing. 

Until a few years ago, many producers packaged all 



their plays, sending on tour not only the star and her satellites, 
but the other players as well. In view of the fact that the 
resident players had to be paid whether they worked or not, 
it became almost impossible for the theatres to end up their 
week with a profit, and managers protested. And most of them, 
as members of the Stock Managers' Association, have made an 
agreement not to accept such packaged casts in the future. 

In general, the managers of summer theatres do not seem 
to lead placid lives. Their operating season is a short one ten 
weeks, at Sea Cliff. Eleven- and twelve-week seasons have 
been tried without great success. But preparations are lengthy, 
and very often the managers must start as early as March to 
get the actors and line up the plays and stars they want. 
Even at that, they very often do not know from one week to 
the next what play they will produce. They may have signed 
a contract to bring Janine Smith to their theatre. But weeks 
may go by without Janine sending in her signature to the 
contract. Suppose that she claims she never agreed to appear 
at Sea Cliff or Patamisquam in the first place. What does the 
manager do then? Committing suicide or shooting Janine is 
not the answer, although very frequently he is tempted to do 
one of these things. 

Even after the star has made a definite commitment, she 
may cancel the contract by giving notice at least three weeks 
before the date when she was supposed to appear. (The 
manager has no similar right to cancel.) If she does not give 
notice in time, neither hell (as exemplified by hot weather) nor 
high water (in the form of a summer flood) will prevent her 
from acting. If she reports that she has broken a leg, the 
manager will grudgingly admit that she has an excuse for not 
appearing, provided that the leg is really broken. If he sus- 
pects that it is in one piece, the case may go to arbitration, 
and the star may have to pay a penalty equal to the salary 
she was supposed to get. Mere illness, however, is no excuse. 
Janine may be running a temperature of a hundred and ten, 
and she may have a hectic flush that will shine through any 
make-up. No matter. It is the tradition of the summer theatre 
that she must go on. 

The Sea Cliff theatre is located in a well-to-do residential 
section of Long Island, and most of the people who attend it 
are all-year-round residents. But most of the other summer 



theatres rely mainly upon the patronage of visitors and vaca- 
tionists, and it is this audience which to a large extent de- 
termines the nature of the theatre. Not knowing in advance 
whether a production will be good or bad, the audience seizes 
upon the name of the star as the most important factor, and 
makes it impossible to get rid of the star system. "Light sum- 
mer reading" has its counterpart in the "light summer play/' 
Many vacationists prefer comedies and farces to more serious 
plays, although an actress who really wants to test her skill 
and has a great box-office appeal will deliberately produce a 
serious play that has been a hit in past seasons. 

The classics have had small place in the summer theatre, 
despite the fact that their authors usually demand no royalties. 
But some managers are determined to put them on, and you 

Courtesy of ANT A 

50. A scene from The Trojan Women, by Euripides, as performed 
at the Hillbarn Summer Theatre, San Mateo, California. 



may run across an occasional production of Shakespeare or 
Moliere. Shaw's Candida was revived in summer stock before 
being sent on tour in the fall. 

To many an author, royalties from summer stock come as 
an unexpected windfall. Even an ancient farce which most 
theatre-goers think of as dated or dead may be resurrected as 
a "vehicle" for a star's beauty, personality, or skill, and its 
author may have the pleasant surprise of receiving an income 
from a work which Broadway has long forgotten. 

For a play to which the original producer has lost his 
rights, that is, a play which has not been performed seventy- 
five times or more in a year, the royalty is $150 per week. For 
a recent Broadway hit which is released for summer stock, the 
royalty will be either a $300 guarantee or four per cent of the 
gross, whichever is higher (in some exceptional cases it may 
be $600 or $700). For a new play, the rate will be around 
$200, although this is subject to negotiation. 

The production of revivals has several advantages for the 
summer theatre, which, we must not forget, is primarily a 
commercial theatre. In the first place, the play has been 
audience-tested and shown to be a superior piece of merchan- 
dise, at least while it was in fashion. The script is in finished 
form very rarely does a director waste time rewriting much 
of an old comedy, although the lines could often stand being 
brought up to date. If there are any difficult production prob- 
lems, they have been met before and solved. 

With an untried play, the producer must begin from 
scratch. The summer theatre is not a good enough market for 
a new play, and the producer always has his eye on Broadway. 
The play is thus subject to all the usual troubles of a new 
work continual rewriting, recasting, change of interpretation, 
and so on. Moreover, the producer is continually trying to 
assemble the best possible cast for a run on Broadway, so that 
he insists, even more strongly than the producer of a revival, 
upon sending out the play as a unit and thus raising the 
cost to the theatre visited. And because he is more interested 
in the money the play will make in a long run on Broadway 
than in what he will get for a single week at Patamisquam 
or Sea Cliff, he is always tinkering with his production, using 
the audience merely for tryout purposes. 

All these considerations complicate the lives of the man- 



agers. They are all of them highly skilled men or women they 
must be in order to put on a new play each week under dif- 
ficult circumstances. Many, even among those the general 
theatre public regards as having purely commercial interests, 
would like to put on only good plays. But the temptation to 
do so is an expensive one, almost as expensive as on Broadway. 

The fact is that some summer theatre audiences will wel- 
come bad plays about as cheerfully as they do good ones more 
cheerfully if a bad play has a famous star and the good play 
has none. 

Whatever success a play may have in the summer theatre, 
here at least, except for theatres very close to large cities, the 
critics do not usually determine its life. Occasional reviews 
appear in village or county papers, but they are not read by 
most of the visitors, and the local critics have no influence 
comparable to that of the critics of the Broadway stage. The 
summer theatre does not appear to be any better off for their 
absence or lack of influence, or for the fact that its success 
depends almost entirely on word-of-mouth reports by the 

The position of the summer theatre, which depends so 
greatly on the star system, is an uncertain one, and may 
change suddenly from one year to the next. Most managers 
hope that the change will be in the direction of less emphasis 
on stars and more emphasis on the quality of the plays. Mean- 
while, the summer theatre has very quietly been doing some 
excellent things. It may come as a shock to those who think 
of it as an unimportant appendage to Broadway to realize 
that it gives employment to many more actors than Broadway 
does. And for a single week, the gross take of all summer 
theatres will be far beyond that of all Broadway theatres 
during a week of their season. It has even been claimed that 
the total gross for a summer exceeds the total taken in on 
Broadway for a complete year, although that seems rather 
doubtful. What is beyond doubt is that the summer theatres 
are no longer small and financially insignificant. During the 
1951 season, the Sea Cliff Theatre grossed approximately 
$92,000, and there were about a half-dozen other summer 
theatres that did about as well. 

Perhaps the most important thing about the summer theatre 
is that it does put on excellent performances of many fine 



plays ( as well as of some bad ones ) , that it does give farmers 
and villagers and vacationists a chance to see worth-while 
living theatre. Performances may lack the complete polish that 
thorough rehearsal will bring to a Broadway production, but 
in general they are good, and some are first-rate. And in the 
quality of plays, nothing stands in the way of the summer 
theatre but the taste of its audiences. On Broadway, revivals, 
even of former smash hits, face many difficulties. In summer 
stock, the best plays of past seasons are readily available. 
The managers are eager to produce them. Let the audiences 
but show their desire to patronize good plays, and the good 
plays will appear before them. 

The summer theatre is still growing. Let us hope that it is 
only in the springtime of its career. 


Theatres Throughout the Country 

DURING ANY GIVEN SEASON, there are some fifty or sixty pro- 
ducers who actually put on Broadway plays. But in the rest 
of the United States there are several hundred thousand, pos- 
sibly half a million, groups who from time to time produce a 
play. Many produce only a single play and then disband. 
But even so, think of what this ratio means one drama group 
for every three hundred people in the United States! If there 
were as high a ratio of physicians, our death rate would be 
much lower than it is. In the face of such a fact, it begins to 
seem a little absurd to ask solemnly whether our theatre is 
dying. The real question is: What sort of life is it leading? 

A life as varied as that of the American people. Some 
groups dramatize Bible readings or sermons, as did the early 
mystery and morality players. Others devote their attention to 
classics, or to light comedies, or to plays that will teach spec- 
tators to know their children or their neighbors better. Some 
are stimulated into activity in summer and hibernate in winter 
Others disband in summer, and do not revive again until the 
school year begins. 

Now the number of fairly good dramatic groups is large 
but the very good ones are few indeed, and the number of 
producing groups that put on bad plays and do them badly 
is all too great. 

Consider the hurriedly organized companies which flourish 
each summer, not the summer theatres, of which we have al- 
ready spoken, but the fly-by-night troupes which whip up 
productions in the hotels and camps. It is their job to kill an 
evening's time, and usually, if the killing is effective, it matters 
little to them how the crime was committed, or whether the 
play itself has also been slaughtered in the process. Here and 
there we find honorable exceptions to this rule. We have seen, 
for example, summer hotel productions of such one-act plays 
as Edna St. Vincent Millay's Aria da Capo, and Lady Greg- 
ory's The Rising of the Moon, well staged and well acted. 



Courtesy of Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carre 

51. A scene from Street Scene, fcy Efmer Rice, 05 performed at 
Le Petit Theatre du Weux Carre, a community theatre In Hew 

But for the most part these groups have few standards and 
fewer scruples. 

What plays shall they put on? Those that have been suc- 
cessful on Broadway in the past are good, of course, for they 
are reasonably sure of an audience. Even better, however, 
are plays that are currently successful on Broadway. What if 
the owners will not give their consent to production? The best 
thing is not to ask the owners. A slight change in the name of 
the play, possibly of the leading characters, and the author's 
work is better disguised than a man would be with beard 
and mustache. Now the author need never even know that his 
play has been produced, and need not bother his little head 
about royalties. 

What of the actors? They may not have acted before, but 
they are willing to try. They may be professional or amateur 


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entertainers, given to putting on comedy routines for friends 
and acquaintances, not to say relatives, and with some ex- 
perience ( between long hours of developing flat feet by wait- 
ing on tables) in acting before summer audiences. The di- 
rector? Any man who has ever been backstage is capable of 
being a director. The scenery? That isn't too bad, because it 
is almost nonexistent. Time for rehearsal? That's hardly neces- 
sary with such geniuses at work. 

Some scripts are almost foolproof, and the resulting produc- 
tion may, despite everything, entertain its audience fairly well 
More likely it will accustom the spectators to incompetence, 
leave them dissatisfied, and do its best to set the theatre back 
a hundred years. 

We have already discussed the high-school and college 
theatres. These usually have few worries about money. By 
contrast, community theatres, with a few exceptions, are al- 
ways facing financial difficulties. They must therefore engage 
in continual efforts to enlist the help of their community. 
Naturally, the degree of success varies. In one case, that of 
Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carre, in New Orleans, the theatre, 
which is operated in association with Tulane University, is 
able to help the University. Usually, however, the theatre 
does not attain such a degree of affluence and has the danger 
of a deficit to contend with. 

Many community groups, like the Harrisburg Theatre, have 
only amateur actors; some, as in Dallas, are staffed entirely 
by professionals. Others combine amateurs with professionals. 
But all the more important community theatres have long had 
paid directors, and many also have paid designers, technicians, 
and business managers. 

Those which secure widespread community backing are 
fortunate in many ways. It is not only that they possess 
assurance of financial support. The participation of a large 
number of people guarantees audience assistance at many 
stages of production, from the choice of plays to the securing 
of props. It insures the conversion of a small acting group 
into a genuine community endeavor. 

Consider the Erie Playhouse, for instance. In a city which, 
by the last census, had fewer than 120,000 inhabitants, it has 
grown to have a paid membership of more than 7,000 (both 
from Erie and the neighboring area). If New York City with 



Its 8,000,000 were to show a comparable Interest in things 
dramatic, the metropolitan area would have close to half a 
million members of community theatres, and community 
theatre would be a sensational success. 

The Erie Playhouse puts on performances six evenings a 
week over a season of nine months. It produces new scripts as 
well as classics and recent hits. It has a Drawing Room Theatre 
in which plays are put on in-the-round, and a Student Theatre 
with classes 'for both children and adults. It teaches all the 
different aspects of theatre from acting to promotion. It has 
a playwright-in-residence. 

Of great significance is the fact that, unlike the commer- 
cial theatre, it is not inbred. It helps train and organize 
amateur groups that give shows in clubs, churches, and other 
community theatres in and near Erie. It brings theatre to the 

The Shreveport Little Theatre, in a city of even smaller 
population, is even better known nationally. Over a period of 
thirty years it has become a source of great local pride, and 
has won the respect of other community theatres and of com- 
mercial theatre people. 

And as a member of the Southwest Theatre Conference, 
it has had great influence in stimulating the growth of the 
theatre over a wide area, including Texas and New Mexico. 

In London, Ontario, which is north of the border, there is 
a community theatre from whose example our own theatre 
could very well profit. London has a little more than 90,000 
inhabitants. But the London Little Theatre operates a 1200- 
seat house and has 10,000 members. Despite the fact that its 
standards are on a high level, and that it has paid stage hands, 
it manages to offer six plays for five dollars. It has two rehearsal 
rooms and an excellent stage, and is equipped to do all kinds 
of plays, including the touring attractions it books. 

A few thousand miles south of London, Le Petit Theatre 
du Vieux Carre, in New Orleans, has a larger community to 
draw upon for support. Also beginning as a small group, it 
has grown and expanded until now its membership is limited 
only by the size of the auditorium. It has long served to bring 
good plays to a region which the commercial theatre always 
neglected. Now it also has a Children's Theatre, and offers 



the members of its community a chance not only to support 
it, but to become an active part of its organization. 

Of special interest is the Karamu Theatre of Cleveland. 
Subject to disci imination in so many ways, Negro playwrights, 
directors, actors, etc., have always faced difficulties even 
greater than those of their white colleagues. In an effort to 
solve some of their problems, they have founded Negro com- 
munity theatres in different parts of the country. Several have 
led a precarious existence in New York. But it is the Karamu 
Theatre which has had the longest life and has now attained 
the position of one of the leading community theatres in the 

As we have already indicated, one of the types of theatre 
which has won wide popularity during the past few years is 
theatre-in-the-round. Its chief advantage is that it needs no 

Courtesy of the Baylor Theatre. Photo by Jimmie Willis Studio 

53. A model of the Baylor Theatre, a community fheofre in Texas. 



conventional theatre building with stage and auditorium. Any 
large room will do. 

But the community group that depends on this type of 
theatre faces an entirely new series of problems. The actors 
must be highly skilled in order for their work to stand the 
close scrutiny of the audience, and they must learn new 
techniques, both of acting and of make-up (the latter is re- 
duced to a minimum, and there are great difficulties with 
character make-up). Remember that the actor traditionally 
hates to turn his back to an audienceand in theatre-in-the- 
round he always has his back to half of it. 

Producers and directors sometimes run into trouble in se- 
lecting and staging plays that are suited to an arena. They 
must learn how to get along with a minimum of scenery, as 
well as how to use lighting as a substitute for scenery. They 
must realize what kind of scenes to look for and what kind to 
avoid (the enforced intimacy of actors and audience in theatre- 
in-the-round detracts from illusion and glamour, and magni- 
fies the unpleasant, the frightening, and the horrible). 

Theatre-in-the-round is a useful solution for the problems 
of some community groups. But it cannot possibly be a cure-all. 

With all the advantages some of them enjoy, there are 
certain respects in which the best university and community 
theatres operate under difficulties. Many of the people who 
take part in their productions, particularly the actors, are 
amateurs and/or novices. In the university theatres, for ex- 
ample, it is difficut to build a permanent organization where 
the more experienced personnel are graduated each year, just 
as they begin to gain competence, and are replaced by raw 
and untrained apprentices. 

Broadway producers can call on the best professional talent 
the entire theatre possesses; community theatres are usually 
limited to the best of a small group. And if outstanding talents 
do make their appearance, they are often lured away by the 
high salaries of Broadway or Hollywood. Perhaps it has been 
the noncommercial theatre's good fortune that in recent years 
Broadway has been able to lure only a few talented individuals 
each year, and its loss has defenitely been the community 
theatre's gain. 

Despite its increased attraction for talented individuals, 
the noncommercial theatre has still no reason for complacency, 



and a hundred of the leading community and university 
theatres are united in the National Theatre Conference, which 
is engaged in a never-ending effort to improve the quality of 
productions. From time to time the Conference subsidizes 
playwrights and conducts surveys of the state of the theatre 
here and abroad. 

A bridge between the community theatre and the com- 
mercial is provided by the Council of the Living Theatre. 
This works with the Theatre Guild and commercial producers 
in arranging tours and organizing audiences in the twenty- 
two cities where subscriptions are sold. The plays sent on 
tour are commercial productions, but the purpose of the 
Council is not primarily to help individual producers earn 
profits on their plays (although it does not object to that 
either). It is rather to build audiences for the living theatre, 
and with this in mind the Council seeks out active community 
leaders who are interested in theatre, arranges for publicity 
of all kinds, and conducts subscription drives. Commercial 
producers co-operate by sending on tour attractions that will 
help sell the entire series of subscriptions. 

One organization of the American theatre that may yet be- 
come very important is ANTA, The American National Theatre 
and Academy. ANTA's charter was granted by Act of Congress 
in 1935 "to extend the living theatre beyond its present limi- 
tations by bringing the best in the theatre to every state in 
the Union." Unfortunately, Congress was more generous with 
good intentions than with cash. ANTA had no money for its 
noble purposes, and for more than ten years it remained 

In 1946, however, ANTA awoke and acted. In that year it 
was reorganized for the purpose of actually founding a theatre 
"national in scope, professional in standing: a people's project 
organized and conducted in their interest/* ANTA was thought 
of as "a place of meeting, a unity of all phases of the theatre." 

How does it try to play its many roles? In the first place, 
ANTA's aim is to help the theatre achieve its proper place of 
honor as a cultural force. This is not only a matter of national 
pride, but of national mental health. In any country, a dying 
theatre is a symptom and a warning that the entire spiritual 
and intellectual life of a people has lost its strength, (Remem- 
ber that the decay of the Greek theatre and the degeneration 



of the Roman theatre were reflections of what was happening 
outside the theatre. The vigor of Shakespeare and his fellow- 
dramatists, on the other hand, mirrored the vigorous upsurge 
of life in Elizabethan England.) ANTA is helping, by sup- 
porting productions of the classics of the past and the best 
plays of the present, to keep the American spirit and intellect 
alive and vigorous. 

ANTA formerly operated its own playhouse. Now it plans, 
eventually, to arrange tours throughout the country in order 
to bring the best of the theatre to every state. And as a part 
of the International Theatre Institute, it co-operates with the 
theatre in other countries. 

At the same time, ANTA works with the high-school groups 
that belong to the National Thespian Society, and with the 
university and community theatres of the American Educa- 
tional Theatre Association and the National Theatre Confer- 
ence. It also co-operates with commercial producers, and has 
gone to considerable trouble to help a play like Death of a 
Salesman carry out a successful tour. 

Much of ANTA's work is on the individual level, and if 
you are at all interested in the theatre as a career, you should 
know something about what ANTA can do for you. If you are 
an actor and want, despite all the advice to the contrary, to 
try your luck on Broadway, it will advise you how to go about 
this. (The first requirement is that you be able to support 
yourself for a year.) It plans to conduct a Workshop which 
will be first a resident acting company, and eventually a 
national repertory company. It has a counseling service for 
young actors and a placement service that helps actors locate 
openings outside New York in community theatres and summer 
stock. Its main call, by the way, is for directors and technicians, 
so that actors who know how to direct, handle scenery, and 
so on, are in an especially favorable position. 

If you are a young playwright who wants to get in touch 
with the commercial theatre, ANTA will send you a list of 
accredited agents. 

If you want to start a small acting group, or a community 
theatre, or if you are already working with such a group and 
running into trouble, ANTA will show you how to solve some 
of your problems. It will advise you on how to obtain com- 
munity support, on how to run the financial end of your busi- 



55. The Interior of The Cleve- 
land Playhouse. 

Courtesy of Cleveland Playhouse. Photo by Parade Studios, Inc. 

ness, how to manage and produce, choose plays and directors, 
etc. If your group is willing to work seriously to put on good 
theatre and has substantial community backing, ANTA will 
not only aid you with publicity, it will send a field worker 
and help service the plans you make. 

In fact, community theatres are one of ANTA's chief in- 
terests. Whether you want to establish an amateur or a pro- 
fessional group, ANTA feels that the more good theatres the 
merrier. Like Margo Jones and her theatre in Dallas, it does 
not consider other groups as competitors but as collaborators 
in the building of an audience. 

Supported so largely by professional theatre workers (many 
of whom put in long hours of volunteer labor), ANTA is 
naturally interested in the health of the commercial theatre. 
But it emphasizes, as so many of the people we have inter- 
viewed have emphasized, that it is a mistake for a community 
theatre to depend on Broadway. A community theatre must 
have a character and vitality of its own or it will becdme 
second-rate. Those community theatres that do have a nation- 
wide reputation are, as we have seen, the ones that put on 
interesting new plays or revive old ones in total disregard of 
what Broadway is doing. 

How does ANTA get the money to support its many activi- 
ties? Most of it comes from individual contributions and sub- 



scriptions, and from its own fund-raising activities. It receives 
royalties from a Decca album which contains recordings of 
famous scenes of plays of the past. It has put on both a tele- 
vision program and live performances, the latter including 
the ANTA album, in which numerous stars do special numbers 
from plays or musicals. 

The income ANTA thus obtains has already been used to 
bring improved theatre to many communities. But the amounts 
needed for the American theatre as a whole are far more than 
ANTA or its supporters can lay their hands on. 

For economic problems confront not only Broadway, but 
theatres in cities other than New York as well. A first-rate 
theatre must have, to start with, a suitable building. And al- 
though rents and real-estate prices elsewhere are not as bad 
as those in New York, a reasonably well-equipped theatre 
building may cost tens of thousands of dollars (less if it is 
an old building altered for the purpose of staging plays, or 
converted into a theatre-in-the-round). Then there is the cost 
of management and production, and so on. No matter where 
put on, commercial plays are expensive when done properly. 
And with all the amateur help that community theatres may 
get, their productions also may involve investments of many 
thousands of dollars. 

Indeed, the situation is so bad that most theatre people 
consider that high costs are among the chief stranglers of the 
theatre. And despite all that can be done by such organiza- 
tions as ANTA and the Council of the Living Theatre, many 
individuals (from angels and producers to writers, scene de- 
signers, and actors) have arrived at the conclusion that the 
commercial theatre needs a subsidy from the government if it 
is to live at all, while the noncommercial theatre needs a 
subsidy if it is to grow. 

Again and again, theatre people point with envy to the 
fact that abroad, wherever the theatre is flourishing, it does 
have government or municipal administration support. This 
is true of practically every country in Europe, no matter what 
its form of government. 

Most Americans in the theatre do not favor a system which 
gives direct control to the government or any other political 
body. They do indorse a system such as that of the Arts 



Council of Great Britain, which helps maintain not only the 
theatre, but music and ballet as well. 

The Arts Council helps finance up to fifty per cent of the 
cost of production of any play which it believes will further 
cultural interest. Now, it is precisely such plays that usually 
have the greatest difficulty getting commercial support. With 
an Arts Council subsidy to back them, serious plays can be 
produced more frequently. At the same time, if a producer is 
so uncouth as to want to make money on a play that looks to 
him Hke a gold mine, and doesn't strike a note of culture, he 
can go right ahead without interference from the Arts Council. 

The producer who has Arts Council Support forms a sep- 
arate nonprofit corporation, which pays salaries to actors, di- 
rectors, and other employees, and also pays the producer's 
office for its services in running the play. The producer may 
recover his share of the investment, but the profits, if any, 
go to the Arts Council, which uses them to finance still other 
plays. The producer will naturally not get rich this way, but 
if he puts on a good play he will gain prestige that will help 
make his next commercial production more successful. Mean- 
while, the theatre remains alive, along with many deserving 
actors, authors, and other workers in it. 

This system encourages revivals (Hke the Laurence Olivier- 
Vivien Leigh revivals of Shaw's Caesar and Cleopatra and 
Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra}. It helps lend variety to 
a theatrical season which might otherwise be top-heavy with 
light comedy and mild melodrama. It plays a useful role in 
building up audiences who in the field of drama, without 
relying for their opinions upon others, know good from evil, 
and support the good. 

Perhaps while waiting for the federal government to de- 
velop an interest in drama, there are better prospects for 
developing theatres sponsored by municipal governments. The 
New Orleans Recreation Department (NOKD), subsidized by 
the city, puts on plays in high schools during week ends. 
Palo Alto, California and Richmond, Virginia subsidize com- 
munity and children's theatres. Milwaukee, Wisconsin oper- 
ates its municipal theatre on a play-a-month basis, its plays 
going outdoors in the summer. 

Other cities could well learn from the examples these 
communities have set. They would probably find that with 



proper organization and management their theatres would 
soon build a considerable body of patrons, and be able prac- 
tically to support themselves, requiring little or no money 
from the city treasury itself. In France and Germany, mu- 
nicipal theatres have a dominating* position, and there is no 
reason why they cannot become equally important here. 

With a subsidy system of any kind, the American theatre 
would still have many problems to solve. There is, for in- 
stance, the need to break down still further the dividing line 
between amateur and professional theatre, between the com- 
mercial and the noncommercial. Many amateur groups have a 
smug belief in the superiority of their own tastes, their own 
feeling for art; at the same time, many people in the com- 
mercial theatre have contempt for anything that is not done 
with professional skill and smoothness, and regard amateur 
art as mere artiness. Professional theatre life remains narrow 
and inbred; on the other hand, even talented amateurs some- 
times are remarkably ignorant of the way things can be done. 

Courtesy of Dallas Theatre. Photo by Squire Raskins 

56. Theatre in the Round at the Dallas Theatre, Texas. A per- 
formance of Southern Exposure, by Owen Crump, directed by 
Margo Jones. 



Each has much to gain from the other. The professional 
has the "know-how"--but this too often means knowing how 
things were done in the past and wanting to keep on doing 
them in the same way. The amateur, on the other hand, often 
blunders but he does sometimes discover fresh new ways of 
doing things. Remember that it was an amateur theatre that 
discovered O'Neill in the United States, and that it was com- 
binations of amateurs and professionals who were the chief 
early supporters of Ibsen and Shaw. 

The American theatre has far to go in solving its problems, 
but it has already taken some of the necessary steps. As an 
individual, you can help in various ways: by urging producers 
to send good plays to your city, by supporting them when they 
arrive, and by helping to organize and support all sorts of 
dramatic activity. 

You can begin without making elaborate plans, and with- 
out raising any money at all. Your group may be a social 
club, a school class, or just a circle of friends interested in 
the theatre. You can take the first step, as Miss Helburn has 
suggested, by forming a play-reading group. From then on, 
as you become more ambitious, and as you have time and 
energy to devote, you can make more far-reaching plans, even 
to the organizing of a permanent community theatre. 

A theatre and its audience must grow together. Your 
audience may not be quite ready, but it is probably growing. 
When there is an average of one dramatic group for every 
three hundred people, you can be sure that more and more 
individuals are becoming interested in the theatre. And as 
the work already started goes on, there is good reason to hope 
that both the number and the quality of theatre groups will 
improve as time goes on. 

Many observers, watching the Broadway theatre stagger 
under one economic and artistic blow after another, have be- 
gun to think that the American theatre as a whole could be 
characterized by the title of one of Tolstoy's plays, The Living 
Corpse. Well, every living thing has parts that are dying. But 
let these gloomy observers lift their eyes from Broadway and 
observe the rest of the nation, and they will see that the 
theatre as a whole is by no means in its death throes. More 
probably, it is only experiencing the pangs of new birth. 



Now THAT WE HAVE reached the conclusion that the American 
theatre is very much alive and will continue to live, the ques- 
tion remains: What kind of theatre is it? What is it approach 
to the things it deals with, what is its style? 

"Style" is itself a word that has had many definitions and 
has been often analyzed. If for an individual we can say that 
"the style is the man/' then for a theatre the style is the people 
and the age in which it lives. Perhaps the most helpful com- 
ment about it was made by Shaw. The alpha and omega of 
style, he said, is effectiveness of expression. The first requisite, 
he added, is therefore to have something which you passion- 
ately desire to express. 

What does our own theatre desire to express? In the work 
of our serious playwrights, at least, it portrays the life around 
it. The plays of Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, and Clif- 
ford Odets give you a picture of how various kinds of Ameri- 
cans live. It is not the sort of picture you would get from a 
camera and sound recorder keeping a record of what hap- 
pens. It is an artist's picture, each author carefully selecting 
the people, the circumstances, the details of living that are 
important to him. 

The result is a kind of stylized realism, a realism colored 
and sometimes weakened by the mood of the playwright. 
Whereas Miller's individuals are caught in difficult situations 
which their own lives and characters have created, Williams* 
heroes and heroines are usually trapped more by their own 
neurotic natures than by external circumstances. And an .Odets 
cast is likely to be groping blindly, looking for a way out of 
the confusion that affects an entire society at cross purposes. 

A performance, however, results not only from the author's 
script, but also from the activities of producer, director, and 
the rest of a company. And as Mr. Clurman has pointed out, 
both the script and the method of staging are limited by 
what is considered in good taste, profitable, comprehensible 
to an audience, etc. Both playwright and director, therefore, 



Photo by Wes Werdland 

57. A scene from Stairs to the Roof, by Tennessee Williams, as 
performed af the Pasadena Community Playhouse. 

are continually affected by the pressure to conform to pre- 
vailing standards. 

A few playwrights do not feel especially constrained by 
this pressure. They write, it seems to them, with perfect free- 
dom. But many of their colleagues feel a censor peering over 
their shoulders. "The audience won't like this, it won't under^ 
stand that , . .Lawyers are very touchy; better make the villain 
an accountant. . .Better choose a different heroine, someone the 
spectator can sympathize with/' To some extent playwrights 
try to head off the censor by censoring their own work in 
advance. They try to write dialogue that is shrewd, analytical, 
keen, penetrating, and important-all this without offending 
anyone. That is a more difficult feat than riding over Niagara 
Falls in a barrel and coming out alive. 



However, some people have survived the trip in a barrel, 
and each year some good plays do manage to be successful 
on Broadway without being trivial. And in one field, that of 
musical comedy, things are looking up. In the old days, musi- 
cal comedy never did have much to say. Now that it says 
something beyond the fact that love is wonderful, critics and 
audiences welcome its improvement. 

In all these productions, successful and not so successful, 
what is distinctively American what is of the mid-twentieth 

First, they are almost all realistic. But our realism, as Mr. 
Clurman has observed, has special features of its own. The 
theatre of Garrick was realistic as compared with the theatre 
that preceded it. But Garrick's realism was different from that 
of Shaw or Ibsen or Chekhov, just as there is a world of 
difference between the naturalistic detail of Gorky and of 
Belasco. Our own realism tends to be tough and hard-boiled, 
brutal and cynical. The pace is fast (often senselessly fast, as 
Mr. Clurman has said), and in the best examples there is a 
feeling of vitality which has startled, and sometimes pleased, 
European audiences. By comparison with the characters of 
The Front Page, the nobility and gentry of most English 
drawing-room comedy seem like walking corpses. Compared 
with the men and women of Gorky's The Lower Depths, how- 
ever, the inhabitants of The Front Page seem little more than 
puppets being moved around in a frenzy by an expert manipu- 

Perhaps we can understand the style of our theatre better 
by looking back to see the changes that have taken place since 
the first decade of the century. In those days, a setting was 
usually intended to be a reproduction of what was considered 
a homely and familiar background, such as a farmhouse, or an 
interesting one, like a drawing" room. The acting usually made 
it very clear that the characters were of two fairly standard 
typesthe good people, with hearts of gold or at least of oak, 
and the villains, always plotting evil. And around the entire 
play there glowed an aura of sentimentality, in which the 
simple good triumphed over the simple evil. Every other na- 
tion has had its own brand of sentimentality in the theatre 
and in literature, but this particular variety was on the whole 
of a primitive and naive sort. 



58. A scene from Sophocles' 
Electro as presented of fne 
Goodman Memorial Thecrfre 
in Chicogo. 

Courtesy of Goodman Memorial Theatre 

Let us skip to the year 1938 and Thornton Wilder's play 
Our Town, hailed by the critics of that season as a master- 
piece of the theatre. The setting, far from being an attempt 
at naturalism, did not exist at all. Wilder had borrowed a 
convention from the Chinese theatre and used a bare stage 
which the imagination of the audience transformed into any 
setting that was wanted. Most of the props were as imaginary 
as the scenery. From the Hindu theatre Wilder had borrowed 
the idea of a stage manager who explained to the audience 
what was going on. In addition, his stage manager assumed 
various roles in the play, usually male but in one case, briefly, 
female. Both these conventions would have bewildered the 
average American audience of, say, 1905. 

They might have been bewildered too by the absence of 
villains and of plot. There is no involved struggle to pay off a 



mortgage, or to foil the villain's plan to ruin the heroine. 
There is simply an attempt to picture the life of a small New 
Hampshire town in the years from 1901 to 1913. No one tries 
to harm anyone else. True, there is a happy ending but in 
an unconventional sense. At the end of the play, the heroine 
is dead, as are some of the other characters. But she and her 
friends assure us that it is much better to be dead than alive, 
and that only in death lies true happiness. 

There is an almost total absence of passion and violent 
feeling. The New Englanders of Our Town live in a different 
world from the New Englanders of O'Neill's Desire Under 
the Elms, who loved, murdered, and robbed with such fierce- 
ness. At times, it is true, the inhabitants of Our Town feel 
strongly. But the feelings are not of a kind to lead to conflict 
and conflict, many critics have held, is basic to good drama. 

You can see how strange Our Town would have seemed if 
it had been played before an audience of fifty years ago. But 
perhaps the strangest thing about it is that in many ways it 
would have seemed to this audience so familiar. If there were 
no real settings, at least the details of the imagined settings, 
those the stage manager describes, were not strange. Church 
steeples and hitching-posts, railroad tracks and horse-blocks, 
imaginary though these might be, would have been more 
welcome and understandable than the stylized and exagger- 
ated backgrounds that are occasionally encountered by mod- 
ern audiences. 

And in spirit, Our Town would have seemed very much 
like the plays the American theatre had long been used to. 
All the characters have hearts of gold, in various stages of 
refinement. There is just as unreal a picture of the inhabi- 
tants of a small town as the early audiences were accustomed 
to see; there is the same glow of sentimentality, the same 
calculated tug at the heartstrings of those who want to be 
assured that the original of the picture is really as pretty as it 
has been painted. In the over-all sweetness, the morsel of phi- 
losophy at the end that only the dead are truly happy serves 
merely to add piquancy and spice, just as lemon peel or cin- 
namon or ginger enhance the flavor of a dessert, without sub- 
tracting from its content of sugar. 

Consider, by contrast, Tennessee Williams* The Glass Me- 
nagerie. Here too the author is looking back to a period the 



Photo by Vetndamm 

59. A scene from Our Town, by Thornton Wilder. Frank Craven, 
in front of the cvrtain f is the narrator. 

depths of the Depression-before the actual time in which the 
play is produced. And here too there are innovations of staging 
which might have confused the old audiences. Instead of a 
stage manager, there is a narrator, who ties the scenes to- 
gether for the audience in the manner of a Greek chorus or 
the narrator in a radio serial, and then steps into the play 
proper to act his own role. The lighting takes on a new im- 
portance. A semitransparent screen hides part of the stage 
until the lights go on behind it. Then the screen becomes 
fully transparent and the scene changes. The very name of 
the play is symbolic, for The Glass Menagerie refers not only 
to the glass animals that the heroine treasures but to the 
characters of the play itself. 

The surface picture is much less true to, life than that 
produced by the imaginary word-painted sets of Our Town. 



But the characters are much more real, drawn with much 
more than surface likeness. And it is this, rather than the 
setting, which would have baffled the old audiences. There 
may be no plot in the old melodramatic sense, but simple 
things happen on which the characters pin their hopes and 
fears. There may be no villain; but there are no cardboard 
cutouts of "good" people, either. The characters are complex, 
and conflict arises from the clash of their desires and passions. 
The effect they produce is painfully realistic. 

Or take Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman. Recognition 
of the reality of the characters is so widespread that the play 
has been a success on the European" continent as well as in 
the United States. But the sense of reality is not produced by 
purely naturalistic methods. It was originally intended, as Mr. 
Miller has pointed out, to be produced without a set. In its 
final form, the play has a single set (see picture page 90), 
which on different levels provides the locale for the most 
varied scenes. We see Willy Loman's house against a back- 
ground of apartment houses, and we see into the house at the 
same time. The entire setting is wholly or partially transparent, 
so that the lighting is of tremendous importance in shifting 
the scene from kitchen to bedroom, or to the various places 
Willy Loman visits. The kitchen is "real" to the extent of three 
chairs and a refrigerator, but there are no other fixtures. The 
bedroom is also real in this skimpy sense, with the addition 
of a silver athletic trophy, which symbolizes the false values 
of Willy and his sons. 

There is an apron stage borrowed from the days of Shake- 
speare. This serves as the scene of Willy's imaginings and of 
his city scenes, as well as of his grave. The author adopts a 
very strict convention to distinguish scenes of the past from 
those of the present. Whenever the action is in the present, 
the actors enter the house only through its door. But in scenes 
of the past, they enter or leave a room by stepping "through" 
a wall onto the forestage. 

The emotional impact of the play is heightened by the use 
of music. This not only creates atmosphere, but in almost 
operatic fashion characterizes some of the actors and height- 
ens and foreshadows the action. The dialogue too is not 
strictly realistic. In many places it is exalted and poetic. When 
Willy's wife says of him, "Attention, attention must be finally 



paid to such a person/' she is generalizing, talking not only of 
Willy, but of other men like him, and of their tragedies too. 
It will be noted that the techniques involved in producing 
these plays have been borrowed from the most various sources 
from China and Elizabethan England, as well as from the 
expressionist stages of Europe. But in each case, the resulting 
play is no mere jumble of stage devices. The technique 
used has become part of the essential nature of the play. 

Note too that these are serious plays, and that whatever 
nonrealistic method the author uses, and whatever his suc- 
cess, his purpose is to heighten the feeling of real life. It is 
not to present a picture that is a complete departure from 
reality (as are some of the poetic plays of Yeats and Maeter- 

This attempt to show things as they are, sometimes pro- 
foundly and sometimes with less serious intent, is part of our 
theatrical tradition. It is to be found not only in the plays we 
have mentioned but in a melodrama like Broadway and a 
comedy like Life With Father. Both plays are American in 
theme and treatment. Playgoers abroad saw in them not the 
familiar picture of a life they knew, but a strange portrait of 
people and manners that were fascinating because they were 
so characteristically American. 

In contrast to all these plays, even such high-caliber musi- 
cal comedies as Oklahoma!, Finians Rainbow, and Pal Joey 
had their origin in a quite different traditionthe tradition of 
theatre that was intended to amuse and to kill time pleasantly, 
without pretense of being real. For many decades, no one 
expected the characters in a musical comedy to behave like 
actual people. They were stock types, and the talents of the 
actors were largely thrown away. All that was asked of them 
was to look pretty, and, if they had leading parts, to sii*g and 
dance and mug. But during the past dozen years, musical 
comedy has also developed a trend toward realism. And in 
doing so, it has made use of a wide variety of methods. 
Finians Rainbow was a fantasy, but a fantasy which genuinely 
reflected certain aspects of American Me. Oklahoma! was a 
story of the frontier which gained much of its effectiveness 
from the integration into the story of ballet and ballet is a 
form of dance developed originally for the entertainment of 



European aristocrats. It was until the past two decades an alien 
form of amusement. 

From the examples of these plays and from the numerous 
others in similar genres which are produced each year we 
see that by far the greater part of the time American dramatists 
prefer to write about Americans in American settings. Very 
few now put their characters in English drawing rooms or in 
never-never lands where fantastic events are normal occur- 
rences. And in the staging, our designers, directors, and actors 
use both naturalistic and nonnaturalistic methods, most of 
them borrowed from other theatres, to create an effect of 
realism (although each individual has his own idea of exactly 
what realism is). In the better plays, the borrowings are in- 
tegrated into a unified whole. In others they seem as out of 
place as an extra thumb on the human hand. 

To sum up, then: Our theatre style is a kind of realism, 
presented with the help of a wide variety of techniques. It is 
usually characterized by speed, often by energy and vigor. Fre- 
quently, because of cynicism or sentimentality, it is shallow 
and distorted. Its subjects are drawn from American life. Our 
playwrights have so many different things to saysome of 
them true and important and some of them downright non- 
sense, some "safe*' and some dangerous to mention that no 
single theme can be said to be of supreme interest. It would 
be different if any one playwright or group of playwrights 
of similar views dominated the scene. As it is, our theatre 
reflects many of the emotional and intellectual cross-currents 
of our time. 



ad lib 

acting area 


box set 


To improvise dialogue or business. The actor may 
ad lib when some one forgets lines or business and 
there is an awkward pause to be bridged. Or he 
may be directed to ad lib expressions in a crowd 
scene, etc., for the sake of getting a realistic effect 

That part of the stage used by the actors. 

The progress of the play, depending on changes in 
the relationships of the characters. It is not mere 
physical activity such as running about the stage. 
There is no action in a race in which the different 
runners do not change relative positions. There is 
action when the last man forges ahead, the pace- 
setter drops back, and so on. 

The part of the stage in front of the curtain. Or a 
special stage stretching out from the regular stage 
into the audience. 

A length of pipe or timber used to suspend scenery, 
to support lights, or to stiffen a surface of canvas 
or board, 

A curtain which hangs down from above behind 
the teaser. It is intended to mask the upper part of 
the stage. 

Individual lights hung on battens around the stage. 

A set whose sides are closed by wings arranged 
edge to edge, with no space between them. Over- 
head there may be either borders or a ceiling. En- 
trances are made through doors or windows. 

Activity which helps interpret a character of the 
play. It goes beyond gesture, which refers merely 
to position of the arms, legs, etc. Raising a hand to 
the nose is a gesture; taking snuff, inhaling, sneez- 
ing, is business. 



character make-up 




drop and wing set 


flood lights 



Make-up whose purpose is to change the essential 
nature of the actor's appearance. Make-up that 
turns a young actor into an old man, a person of 
different nationality, etc., is character make-up. 

The last words or business of one actor, signaling 
that it is another actor's turn to speak, come on- 
stage, etc. 

A screen with a uniform surface, placed in back of 
outdoor scenery. Colored light is projected on it 
to produce a sky, etc. 

Part of an electric circuit which increases or de- 
creases the brightness of lights. 

Part of a set hung from overhead. 

An old type of set in which painted wings and 
borders, one behind the other, mask more and more 
of the stage. There is a full drop upstage. Actors 
make their entrances not through doors or win- 
dows, which are only painted, but between the 

A screenlike piece of scenery which rests upon the 
floor and is fastened to it. 

The space near the top of the stage, where scenery 
is hung out of sight of the audience. 

To raise or lower a piece of scenery, toward or 
away from the flies. 

Lights, usually arranged in a row, which throw 
light up from the front of the stage. They are tra- 
ditionally associated with the modern stage, but 
they are not the most useful lights. 

Strong lights, each of which floods a good part of 
the stage. 

A sheet of transparent colored material placed in 
front of a stage light in order to color the light 

Change of position of the hands, arms, legs, or the 
body as a whole for the purpose of expressing feel- 
ing or thought. 




grid or gridiron 

ground row 


obligatory scene 
prompt script 




A place where the actors wait between their ap- 
pearances on stage. It isn't usually green, and it 
doesn't have to be a room. Not all theatres have 
one, and in that case the actors may wait in their 
dressing rooms, or wherever else is convenient. 

A metal or wood framework above the stage. 
Equipped with pulleys and blocks, it serves to sup- 
port drops and borders. 

A low flat which represents in outline part of a 
landscape standing in front of a sky. 

A narrow flat. 

Change of an actor's position on the stage. 

A scene which the audience more or less con- 
sciously foresees and finds necessary. 

A complete record of the production. It includes 
all cuts, changes, directions for movement, busi- 
ness, use of props, etc., as made by the stage man- 

All objects essential to the action of the play ex- 
cept for costumes and scenery. Furniture is some- 
times considered part of the props. 

The frame of the stage. Everything that surrounds 
the stage opening. 

A rehearsal played from beginning to end without 
a break, to give the actors the feel of an act or 
play as a whole. 

This word is used in many ways. The place where 
the action of the play occurs. Also, a subdivision 
of a play. Modern authors use the word to mean a 
distinct part of an act, usually separated from the 
next part by the fall and rise of a curtain, with only 
a brief intermission. There may be two or three 
such scenes per act. The classical or French scene 
was part of an act between the entrances and exits 
of characters. Of such scenes, there might be 
twenty or thirty per act. Scene is also used to de- 
scribe a bit of dialogue or pantomime that makes 
a definite point. According to this method of scene 
division, there may be dozens per act. 



set piece 

stage directions 

straight make-up 



tormentor lights 


The entire play, in written or typed form. 

A three-dimensional piece of scenery which sup- 
ports itself on the floor. 

The business, cues, and lines of a single actor, 
written or typed separately. 

A lamp whose light is concentrated and thrown on 
a small part of the stage, usually around an actor. 

Directions to the actors, the director, etc., all writ- 
ten from the point of view of the player and not 
the audience. Right is the actor's right, and so on. 

Make-up whose purpose is to make the performer 
as attractive as possible under the stage lighting. 

Rows of lights in short, portable sections. 

To exaggerate consciously some elements of the 
acting, design, and the rest of the production. This 
is accompanied by lack of emphasis or the com- 
plete absence of other elements. The purpose is to 
intensify the effect of a mood, idea, etc. 

A curtain which hangs down behind the pro- 
scenium opening. 

High flats standing upright on each side of the 
opening in back of the proscenium. Each has two 
folds and is colored the same as the teaser, thus 
helping carry out the effect of a frame for the stage. 

Lights placed between the proscenium and the tor- 

An opening in the stage floor that can be used for 
entrances or exits, the removal of pieces of furni- 
ture, and so on. 

A piece of scenery which looks opaque when light- 
ed from in front and becomes transparent when 
lighted from the back. 



A large library will contain thousands of books and periodicals about 
the theatre. Below are listed a few of those that are most generally avail- 
able and most useful to the beginner. 

A word of warning with regard to classification: Some of the books 
do not fit perfectly into pigeonholes, either in these lists or in others. A 
book on production may have excellent advice on acting, and a book on 
the nature of the drama may contain much useful history. It is well to 
take all classifications, here and elsewhere, with several grains of salt. 


Billboard Theatre Arts Monthly 

Dramatics Variety 

Educational Theatre Journal 


Bricker, Herschel, ed., Our Theatre Today, New York, Samuel French, 
1936. Contains a historical section by Alfred Harding. 

Hartnoll, Phyllis, ed., The Oxford Companion to the Theatre, London, 
Oxford University Press, 1951. 

St. John, Christopher, ed., Ellen Terry and Bernard Shaw, A Corre- 
spondence, New York, G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1931. 

Sobel, Bernard, ed., The Theatre Handbook and Digest of Plays, New 
York, Crown Publishers, 1940. (A revised edition is in preparation.) 

Theatre Arts Anthology, New York, Theatre Arts Book: Robert M. 
MacGregor, 1950. 


Bentley, Eric, The Playwright as Thinker, New York, Reynal & 

Hitchcock, 1946. 
Brooks, Cleanth, and Robert B. Heilman, Understanding Drama, New 

York, Henry Holt, 1948. An anthology, with analyses of different types 

of plays. 
Clark, Barrett H,, European Theories of the Drama, rev. ed., New York, 

Crown Publishers, 1947. 

Gassner, John, Masters of the Drama, New York, Dover, 1945. 
Krows, A. E., Playwriting for Profit, New York, Longmans, 1928. 



Lawson, John Howard, The Theory and Technique of Plat/writing and 
Screenwriting, New York, G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1949. 

Shaw, George Bernard, Dramatic Opinions and Essays, New York, Dodd, 
Mead, 1907. 

Shaw, George Bernard, Prefaces to his plays. 

Shaw, George Bernard, The Quintessence of Ibsenism (1891), New York, 
Brentano's, 1914. 

Venezky (Griffin), Alice, Living Theatre, A Study Guide to Great Plays, 
and an Anthology, prepared under the auspices of the American Na- 
tional Theatre and Academy, New York, Twayne, 1951. 

Webster, Margaret, Shakespeare Without Tears, New York, Whittiesey 
House, 1942, 


Barton, Lucy, Historic Costume for the Stage, Boston, Baker, 1935. 
Davis, Eugene C., Amateur Theatre Handbook, New York, Greenberg, 

Dolman, John, Jr., The Art of Play Production, rev. ed., New York, 

Harper, 1946. 
Gassner, John, Producing the Play, New York, Dryden, 1941. A revised 

edition is now in preparation. 
Gorelik, Mordecai, New Theatres For Old, New York, Samuel French, 

Hewitt, Barnard, The Art and Craft of Play Production, Philadelphia, 

Lippincott, 1940. 
Houghton, Norris, Advance from Broadway, New York, Harcourt, Brace, 


Hughes, Glenn, The Penthouse Theatre, New York, French, 1942. 
Jones, Margo, Theatre~in-the-Round, New York, Rinehart, 1951. 
Kohler, Carl, and Emma von Sichart, History of Costume, London, Watt, 

1928 and Philadelphia, McKay, 1937. 
McCandless, Stanley R., A Method of Lighting the Stage, rev. ed., New 

York, Theatre Arts, 1939. 

Mitchell, Roy, The School Theatre, New York, Brentano's, 1925. 
Selden, Samuel, ed., Organizing a Community Theatre, Cleveland, Na- 
tional Theatre Conference, 1945. 

Simonson, Lee, The Art of Scenic Design, New York, Harper, 1950. 
Simonson, Lee, The Stage is Set, New York, Harcourt, Brace, 1932. 
Smith, Milton, Play Production, New York, Appleton-Century-Crofts, 




Albert!, Eva, A Handbook of Acting, New York, Samuel French, 1932. 
Anderson, Virgil A., Training the Speaking Voice, New York, Oxford 

University Press, 1942. 
Boleslavsky, Richard, Acting: The First Six Lessons, New York, Theatre 

Arts, 1933. 
Cole, Toby, and Helen Krich Chinoy, Actors on Acting, New York, 

Crown Publishers, 1949. 

Corson, Richard, Stage Make-up, New York, Crofts, 1947. 
Liszt, Rudolph G., The Last Word in Make-up, New York, Dramatists 

Play Service, 1942. 
Manser, Ruth B., and Finlan, Leonard, The Speaking Voice, New York, 

Longmans, Green, 1950. 

Shaw, Bernard, The Art of Rehearsal, New York, Samuel French, 1922. 
Stan&lavski, Constantin, An Actor Prepares, New York, Theatre Arts, 



Bieber, Margarete, The History of the Greek and Roman Theatre, 
Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1938. 

Bowers, Faubion, Japanese Theatre, New York, Hermitage House, 1952. 

Chambers, E. K., The Elizabethan Stage, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1923. 

Chambers, E. K., The Medieval Stage, Oxford University Press, 1903. 

Cheney, Sheldon, The Theatre: Three Thousand Years of Drama, Acting, 
and Stagecraft, New York, Tudor, 1935. 

Clark, Barrett H., and Freedley, George, ed., A History of Modem 
Drama, New York, Appleton-Century, 1947. 

Clurman, Harold, The Fervent Years, New York, Knopf, 1945. 

Dana, H. W. L., Handbook on Soviet Drama, New York, American 
Russian Institute, 1938. 

Dickinson, Thomas H., ed., The Theatre in a Changing Europe, New 
York, Holt, 1937. 

Flanagan, Hallie, Arena, New York, Duell, Sloan, & Pearce, 1948. 

Freedley, George, and Reeves, John A,, A History of the Theatre, New 
York, Crown Publishers, 1941. 

Gassner, John, ed., Twenty Best Plays of the Modern American Theatre, 
New York, Crown Publishers, 1939; Best Plays of the Modern Ameri- 
can Theatre, Second Series; Twenty-five Best flays of the Modern 
American Theatre, Early Series; A Treasury of the Theatre, three 
volumes, New York, Simon & Schuster. These anthologies contain a 
vast amount of historical material. 

Hodges, C. Walter, Shakespeare and the Player, New York, Coward- 
McCann, 1948. 



Holzknecht, Karl J., The Backgrounds of Shakespeare's flays, New York, 

American Book Company, 1950. 
Hughes, Glenn, A History of the American Theatre (1700-1950), New 

York, Samuel French, 1951. 

Hughes, Glenn, Story of the Theatre, New York, Samuel French, 1928. 
Mantzius, Karl, A History of Theatrical Art in Ancient and Modern 

Times, 6 volumes, London, Duckworth, 1903-1921, New Yoirk, Peter 

Smith, 1937. 
Nagler, A. M., Sources of Theatrical History, New York, Theatre Annual, 


Nicoll, Allardyce, World Drama, New York, Harcourt, 1950. 
Nicoll, Allardyce, The Development of the Theatre, 3rd ed., New York, 

Harcourt, Brace & Co., 1948. 
Gates, Whitney J., and O'Neill, Eugene, Jh, The Complete Greek Drama, 

2 volumes, New York, Random House, 1938. With historical intro- 
Sprague, Arthur Colby, Shakespeare and the Actors, Cambridge, Mass., 

Harvard University Press, 1945. 
Watkins, Ronald, On Producing Shakespeare, New York, W. W. Norton, 




Abbott, George, 55; interview with, 69-72 

Actors Equity Association, 121, 132, 134, 
142-144, 163, 166, 206 

Actors Lab Theatre, 220 

Adelman, Louis, 198 

Aeschylus, 6, 7, 12, 109, 203 

Age of Anxiety, The, 178 

Aida, 80 

Aldridge Players, 163 

All My Sons, 15, 101, 103 

American Academy of Dramatic Arts, 
53, 123 

American Educational Theatre /Associa- 
tion, 227 

American Federation of Labor, 142 

American Guild of Variety Artists, 166 

American National Theatre Academy; 
see ANTA 

American Negro Theatre, 163, 164 

American Theatre Wing, 167 

American University, 101 

Anderson, Maxwell, 147, 148, 152 

Androcles and the Lion, 107 

Anna and the King of Siam, 147 

Anna Lucasta, 163 

Anne of the Thousand Days, 147, 148 

Anouilh, Jean, 77 

ANTA, 132, 136, 153, 156, 157, 226- 

Antoine, 105 

Antoinette Perry Award, 137 

Antony and Cleopatra, 130, 131, 230 

Aria da Capo, 219 

Aristophanes, 6 

Aristotle, 32 

Arsenic and Old Lace, 189 

Arts Council of Great Britain, 19, 229, 

Associated Actors and Artists of Amer- 
ica, 144 

A* You Like It, 163 

Atkinson, Brooks, 14, 16; interview with 

Atmospheric perspective, 93; see Light- 

Atwater, Edith, 38, 114, 190; interview 
with, 123-127 

Awake and Sing, 73, 78, 220 

Bacon, Frank, 44 

Baker, George P., 202 

Ballet Theatre, 53 

Barretts of Wimpole Street, The, 129 

Barrie, Sir James, 152 

Barry, Philip, 202 

Bay, Howard, 96, 174; interview with, 


Baylor University, 196, 223 
Behrman, S. N., 147 
Belasco, David, 74, 89, 105, 235 

Bellamy, Ralph, 124 

Bell, Book and Candle, 21, 147 

Berg, Gertrude, 55 

Berlin, Germany, 105 

Berlin Stones, 21 

Bernhardt, Sarah, 113, 114, 131, 134 

Bernstein, Leonard: interview with, 178- 


Billy Budd, 32 
Blithe Spirit, 147 
Bloomer Girl, 173, 183 
Board of Education, N.Y.C., 190 
Boleslavsky, Richard, 123 
Booth, Edwin, 44, 134 
Booth, Shirley, 70 
Border lights; see Lighting 
Bosse High School Thespians, 189 
Boston Transcript, 31 
Brand, Phoebe, 220 
Brando, Marlon, 190 
Brecht, Berthold, 17 
Broadway, 69, 76, 240 
Bromberg, J. Edward, 220 
Brooks, Martin, 22 
Brown, Lyman, 206 
Brynner, Yul, 169 
Buck, Josephine, 163 
Buloff, Joseph, 60 
Burlesque, 162 

Caesar and Cleopatra, 230 

Call Me Madam, 26 

Campbell, Dick, 163 

Candida, 128, 215 

Carnegie Institute of Technology, 198 

Carnovsky, Morris, 220 

Carousel, 14, 183, 186 

Carpenter, Constance, 169 

Cassidy, Claudia, 33 

Catholic University, 87, 117, 197, 200 

Central Catholic High School, 192 

Central Europe, 105 

Chase, Mary, 60 

Chekhov, Anton, 17, 113, 128, 137, 152, 


Cherry Orchard, The, 152 
Children of the Ladybug, 195 
Children's Theatre, 222 
Chinese theatre, 88 
Chorus Equity, 143, 144, 166 
Cleveland Playhouse, 57, 228 
Clurman, Harold, 233, 235; interview 

with, 73-79 
Cobb, Lee J., 19 
Cocteau, Jean, 76 

Columbia University, 196, 197, 198, 202 
Comden, Betty, 54, 180 
Come Back, Little Sheba, 99 
Commedia delF Arte, 58 
Congreve, William, 76 



Cornell, Katharine: interview with, 128- 


Costume design, 95 
Council of the Dramatists Guild, 7 
Council of the Living Theatre, 51, 226, 


Country Girl, The, 137 

Coward, Noel, 147 

Craven, Frank, 239 

Crothers, Rachel, 202 

Grouse, Russel, 14, 124; interview with, 


Crucible, The, 15, 96 
Crump, Owen, 231 

Dallas Theatre, 13, 221, 228, 231 
Dance, 172, 173, 175, 176, 178, 183- 


Dance to the Piper, 183 
Davis, Owen, 191 
Death of a Salesman, 15, 18, 19, 76, 90, 

147, 175, 227, 239 
Delsarte Method, 109 
de Mille, Agnes: interview with, 183- 

Derwent, Clarence, 146; interview with, 


Desire Under the Elms, 75, 102, 237 
de Vega, Lope, 8 
Devffs Disciple, The, 81 
de Wilde, Brandon, 60, 78 
Di Luca, Dino, 74 
Dionysus, 85 

Doctors Dilemma, The, 128 
Donaldson Award, 137 
Don Carlos, 80 
Don Juan, 8 

Dramatists' Guild, The, 6, 166 
Drawing Room Theatre, 222 
Dunnock, Mildred, 19 
Duse, Eleanora, 113, 114 

Eastern Europe, 105 

East Lynne, 132 

Ecole des Femmes, U, see School for 


Edwards, Christine, 190-194 
Egypt, Ancient, 121 
Electra, 236 

Elizabethan Engknd, 97, 121 
Elizabethan stage, 95 
Emmett, Robert, 211 
Emperor Jones, 163 
Encyclopedia Americana, 101 
Enemy of the People, 17 
England, 121 
Equity Council, 163 
Equity Magazine, 142 
Equity reading, 48 
Erie Playhouse, 62, 221, 222 
Euripides, 6, 205, 214 
European theatre, 103-105 
Evans, Maurice, 81 

Falconetti, 138 

Fall River Legend, 183 

Fancy Free, 178 


Faust, 8 

Federal Theatre, 145 

Feigay, Paul, 54 

Ferdinand, the Bull, 163 

Ferrer, Jose, 63, 64, 137 

Fervent Years. The, 73 

Finians Rainbow, 240 

Fitch, Clyde, 12 

Flahooley, 123 

Focus, 15 

Focusing spotlight, see Lighting 

Footlights, see Lighting 

Forbes, Kathryn, 21 

Fourposter, The, 147 

France, Anatole, 33 

Freedley, George, 195 

French, Samuel, ,14, 47 

Front Page, The, 76, 235 

Fry, Christopher, 76, 147 

Garfield, John, 220 

Garrick, David, 58, 235 

Gilbert and Sullivan, 174 

Gillette, William, 43, 44 

Giraudoux, Jean, 77 

Give Us This Day, 101 

Glass Menagerie, The, 237, 238 

Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von, 8 

Golden Boy, 73, 101 

Golden, John: interview with, 42-47 

Goldoni, Carlo, 196 

Good Fairy, The, 152 

Goodman Memorial Theatre, 115, 225, 

Gorelik, Mordecai, 96; interview with, 


Gorky, Maxim, 235 
Granville-Barker, Harley, XIII, 133 
Greece, Ancient, 85, 121, 177 
Green, Adolph, 54, 180 
Gregory, Lady, 219 
Group Theatre, 73, 79 
Guggenheim Foundation, 10 

Hagen, Uta, 110, 115; interview with, 


Hallelujah, 163 
Hamlet, 80, 107, 132, 133, 137, 155, 

162, 172 

Hammerstein, Oscar II, 21, 55, 99, 185 
Hampden, Walter, 96 
Harding, Alfred: interview with, 142- 


Harriet, 154 
Harris, Julie, 22, 78 
Harrisburg Theatre, 221 
Harrison, Rex: interview with, 147-151 
Hart, Teddy, 70 

Harvard University, 48, 133, 202 
Harvey, 162 
Hayes, Helen, 60, 115; interview with, 


Head of the Family, 163 
Hedda Gabler, 204 
Helburn, Theresa, 232; interview with, 

Hellman, Lillian, 76 


Henderson, Archibald, 33 

Henry VI, 13 

Herbert, Victor, 174 

Heywood, John, XIV 

High School o Performing Arts, 47, 190 

Hillbarn Summer Theatre, 214 

Holm, Cecil, 70 

Hornman, Miss Annie, 133 

Housman, Laurence, 152, 156 

Howard, Sidney, 211 

Hudson Theatre, 26 

Hughes, EHnore, 33 

Hugo, Victor, 113 

Hunt, Marsha, 81 

Hunter College, 190 

Hunter, Kim, 211 

lago, 64 

I Am a Camera, 21, 22 

Ibsen, Henrik, 7, 9, 12, 17, 124, 200, 

203, 232, 235 
Icebound, 191 
Inge, William, 49, 76, 99 
International Theatre Institute, 132, 136 
Ireland, 105 
/ Remember Mama, 21 
Irving, Sir Henry, 121 
Isherwood, Christopher, 21 
Italy, 105 

Japan, 147 
Jefferson, Joseph, 44 
Jeremiah Symphony, 178 
Joan of Arc, 13, 138 
Jolson, Al, 42 
Jones, Margo, 13, 228, 231 
Jouvet, Louis, 104 
Julius Caesar, 87 

Kaiser, Georg, 17 

Karamu Theatre, 57, 223 

Katherine and Petruchio, 192 

Kennedy, Arthur, 19 

Kern, Jerome, 99, 180 

Kerr, Walter, 197 

King and I, The, 168, 169, 170 

King Lear, 38. 123, 125, 204 

Kramm, Joseph, 63 

Lady Passing Fair, A, 163 

Lahr, Bert: interview with, 158-162 

Langner, Laurence, 49 

Laurents, Arthur, 74. 76 

League of New York Theatres, 166 

Lee, Auriol, 23 

Leigh, Vivien, 230 

Levene, Sam, 69, 70 

Life With Father, 26, 27, 28, 240 

Lighting for stage, 91, 92, 93, 98, 174; 

see also Glossary 
Lighinin', 42 
Lindsay, Howard, 14, 124; interview 

with, 26-30 
Lira, Miguel N., 225 
Living Corpse, The, 232 
Loder, John, 190 
Logan, Joshua, 152 

London Little Theatre, 223 
Lorca, Federico Garcia, 17 
Lower Depths, The, 235 
Lynn, William, 70 

Macandrew, James F., 190 

Macbeth, 133 

MacMillan, Louis, 207 

Major Barbara, 147 

Make-up, 114, 125 

Male Animal The, 42, 145 

Mamas Bank Account, 21 

Man Who Came to Dinner, The, 123 

Marlowe, Christopher, 8 

Mary of Scotland, 152, 155 

Mary, Queen of Scots, 132 

McCormick, Myron, 124 

McCullers, Carson, 78 

McMahon, Aline, 135 

McMahon, Horace, 70 

Me and Molly, 55 

Member of the Wedding, The, 73, 76, 

77, 78 

Men in White, 101, 103 
Merchant of Venice, The, 13 
Merry Wives of Windsor, The, 133 
Metropolitan Opera Company, 80, 176 
Midsummer Night's Dream, A, 204 
Mielziner, Jo, 87, 90 
Millay, Edna St. Vincent,, 219 
Miller, Arthur, 7, 14, 76, 90, 129, 233, 

239; interview with, 15-20 
Miller, Leon C., 188, 190 
Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 230 
Mister Roberts, 169 
Mistress of the Inn, The, 196 
Mitchell, Cameron, 19 
Mitchell, Ruth: interview with, 168-171 
Moliere (Jean-Baptiste Poquefin), 6, 7, 

104, 109, 114, 173, 203, 205, 215 
Molnar, Ferenc, 152 
Moon Besieged, The, 115 
Moscow, 107 

Mrs. McThing, 60, 153, 154 
Munich, Germany, 105 
Munshin, Jules, 60 
Music Circuses, 212 
Musicals, production of, 172-187 

Nathan, George Jean, 16 

National Theatre Conference, 101, 106, 
226, 227 

National Thespian Society, 188, 190, 

Negro Actors' Guild, 166 

New Dramatists Committee Workshop, 
7, 29 

New Haven, 68 

New Orleans Recreation Department, 
see NORD 

New York City Center, 7, 97 

New York Philharmonic Symphony Or- 
chestra. 163 

New York Times, 31 

No Exit, 55 

None But the Lonely Heart, 101 

NORD f 230 



No Time for Comedy, 147 
Nugent, Elliott, 45 

O'Casey, Sean, 16, 17 

Odets, Clifford, 76, 137, 220, 233 

Oedipus the King, 200 

Oklahoma, 173, 183, 185, 186, 240 

Olivier, Sir Laurence, 155, 230 

O'Neal, Frederick: interview with, 163- 


One Bright Day, 29 
O'Neill, Eugene, 12, 73, 102, 202, 232, 


On the Town, 53, 54, 178, 179, 180 
Oregon, University of, 204 
Othello, 64, 80, 134 
Our Town, 189, 236, 237, 238, 239 

Pal Joey, 240 

Palmer, Lili, 147, 149, 150 

Palo Alto, Calif., 230 

Parent Associations. 188 

Parkersburg High School crew, 191 

Pasadena Playhouse, 14, 234 

Penthouse Theatre, 196 

Perez, Jose, 74 

Persians, The, 12 

Petit Theatre du Vieux Carre, 219, 221, 


Philadelphia, Pa., 68 
Phoenix, The', 42 
Picnic, 49 
Pinky, 163 
Pirandello, Luigi, 76 
Poland, 105 
Polonius, 107 
Preston, Robert, 45 
Pride and Prejudice, 189 
Prince, William, 22 
Processional, 101 
Proctor, James D., 40-41 
Prospect Heights High School, 190 
Provincetown, 207 

Rahn, Muriel, 163 

Ratcliffe, Thomas G. Jr., 207, 208 

Rathbone, Basil, 206 

Ratigan, Terence, 189 

Redman, Joyce, 148 

Remains to be Seen, 29 

Return to Earth, 225 

Rice, Elmer, 164, 219 

Richard II, 37, 80 

Richard III, 203 

Richmond, Va., 230 

Rising of the Moon, The, 219 

Rivals, The, 135 

Robeson, Paul, 64, 137 

Rockefeller Foundation, 101 

Rodeo, 183 

Rodgers, Richard, 21, 55, 185 

Rome, Ancient, 121 

Romeo and Juliet, 86, 128, 163 

Roosevelt, Franklin D., 29 

Rose McClendon Players, 163 

Rosenthal, Jean, 98 

Russell, Rosalind, 179 


Ruu Bias, 113 
Ryder, Alfred, 22 

Saint Joan, 80, 128, 137, 138 

Salvini, 43 

Sappho, 132 

Sardou, Victorien, 11, 12, 131 

Saroyan, William, 11 

Sartre, Jean-Paul, 55, 77 

Scene design, 85-106 

Scenic Designers* Union, 98 

Schiller, Friedrich, 132 

Schneider, Alan, 87, 200 

Schochen, Seyril, 115 

School for Scandal, The, 132 

School for Wives, The, 104 

Scott, Martha, 45 

Scott, Winnie, 163 

Scribe, Eugene, 11, 12 

Seacliff Summer Theatre, 207, 211 

Sea Gull, The, 137 

Shakespeare, William, 1, 6, 7, 12, 13, 
14, 38, 42, 48, 58, 64, 75, 80, 85, 
86, 95, 97, 104, 107, 109, 113, 114, 
124, 125, 128, 129, 130, 137, 147, 
152, 155, 172, 192, 196, 203, 205, 
215, 227, 230, 239 

Shaw, George Bernard, 6, 8, 9, 12, 17, 
33, 34, 42, 44, 63, 65, 71, 76, 80, 
81, 113, 128, 129, 131, 137, 138, 147, 
215, 230, 232, 233, 235 

Sheridan, Richard Brinsley, 135 

Show Boat, 99 

Show Boat Theatre, 196 

Shreveport Little Theatre, 222 

Shrike, The, 63 

Simonson, Lee, 91 

Sing Out, Sweet Land, 197 

Skin of Our Teeth, The, 76 

Smith, Art, 211, 220 

Smith, Milton, 196-197 

Smith, Oliver: interview with, 53-57 

Soft-focus spotlights, see Lighting 

Solov, Zachary, 176 

Sophocles, 42, 114, 236 

South Pacific, 14 

Southern Exposure, 231 

Southwestern Theatre Conference, 222 

Soviet theatre, 86, 104-105 

Speech, see Voice 

Spook Sonata, 76 

Stage space, 91 

Stairs to the Roof, 234 

Stanford University, 135, 146, 203 

Stanislavsky, Konstantin, 85, 107, 109, 
110, 137 

State of the Union, 26, 29, 124 

Stevens, Emily, 154 

Stickney, Dorothy, 28 

Stock Managers' Association, 213 

Stowe, Harriet Beecher, 154 

Street Scene, 219 

Streetcar Named Desire, A, 137 

Strindberg, August, 17, 76 

Student Theatre, 222 

Syracuse University, 201 


Take a Giant Step, 163 

Taming of the Shrew, The, 13 

Tarrant, Newell, 62 

Taylor, Laurette, 140 

Television Authority, 166 

Tempest, The, 58, 80 

Terry, Ellen, 131, 134 

Theatre Guild, 48, 49, 50, 64, 78, 82, 

Theatre in the Round, 91, 196, 204, 212, 

223, 224, 231 
Thespian Society, 173 
They Knew What They Wanted, 211 
Thomas, Augustus, 12 
Thorn, Robert, 195 
Three Men on a Horse, 69, 70 
Three Sisters, The, 128 
Thurber, James, 45 
Time of the Cuckoo, The, 73, 74 
Titus Andronicus, 13 
Tobacco Road, 11, 32 
Tolstoy, Leo, 232 
Tomorrow the World, 123 
Tree Grows in Brooklyn, A, 38, 69 
Trojan Women, The, 214 
Tulane University, 221 
Twelfth Night, 48, 152, 155 
Two on the Aisle, 97, 158, 159 

Ulric, Lenore, 130 

Van Druten, John, 14, 147, 149; inter- 
view with, 21-25 
Vardac, Nicholas, 203 
Venus Observed, 147 
Verdi, Giuseppe, 80 

Victoria Regina, 152, 155, 156 
Voice of the Turtle, The, 21 
Voice, training of, 115-120, 134, 139 

Waldorf, Willela, 33 

Warfield, David, 44 

Washington Square Players, 48 

Washington, University of, 196 

Waters, Ethel, 78 

Watson, Douglas, 64 

Watson, Minor, 124 

Webster, Margaret, 138; interview with, 


Wells, H. G., 25 

Westport Country Playhouse, 51 
Wharf Theatre, 207 
What Every Woman Knows, 152 
Whitehead, Robert, 60 
Widowers' Houses, 6 
Wilde, Oscar, 196 
Wilder, Thornton, 231, 239 
Williams, Tennessee, 76, 129, 137, 149, 

233, 234, 237 
Winner, The, 164 
Winslow Boy, The, 189 
Winters, Marian, 22 
Wizard of Oz, The, 158 
WNYE, 190 

Wonderful Town, 178, 179 
Wycherley, Margaret, 190 

Yale University, 195, 202 
Young Men's Christian Association, 188 
Young Men's Hebrew Association, 188 
You Cant Take It With You, 189 
Young Woodley, 21